Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 12th December 2011.
The audience numbers for this new production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, directed by Dominic Cooke, has naturally been the National Theatre debut of Lenny Henry as Antipholus of Syracuse. Previously Henry has struck Shakespeare gold in the tragedy of Othello against all the odds – he’s been almost exclusively known for his comedy ever since his teenage appearance on New Faces. So how will he fare here in what is essentially Elizabethan farce?
For those who don’t know the story, Egeon of Syracuse has visited the forbidden city of Ephesus to search for his son, who went forth on a quest to seek his long-lost mother and twin brother (lost at sea many years before), taking along his faithful servant Dromio, himself a twin long parted from his mirror image. Egeon is arrested and detained as an illegal alien, while the Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio soon find themselves being mistaken for other people.
If the penny dropped at this point, the Syracusans would find those they had lost but we would be robbed of a fun frolic through misunderstanding, heightened here by the use of pop songs such as Paranoid and Mad World (sung in Romanian by a rag tag group of musicians) and sets such as the luxury apartments which make up the Phoenix, the beat box nightclub at the Porcupine, and – less successful – the Abbey ‘Clinic’.
There’s even a real ambulance which appears at the height of the farce as the two Antipholi and the two Dromios use those metallic scooters beloved of modern commuters to evade capture.
As for the cast? Well, Henry is a big man with a big voice, and therefore impresses – although he seems to mute an African accent very early on (perhaps for the best as his mirror Antipholus, Chris Jarman, does not have such an accent). As the twin Dromios, Lucian Msamati and Daniel Poyser are almost indistinguishable in their thick glasses and Arsenal t-shirts – they are entertaining in their low humour and make the most of their bits of funny business. As the wife and sister in law of the Ephesian Antipholus, Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry also make their mark.
For me the best version of The Comedy is still the 1970s musical developed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but the National’s effort is by no means a failure. It’s worth your time to go and have a look.