Shifting the timeframe several centuries forward to the 1970s, playing around with gender, having the cast perform choreographed disco dances (mirror ball spinning overhead) and generally just pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor, director, Janine Watson clearly had a ball creating this Bell Shakespeare production of The Comedy of Errors – and the audience has a ball watching it.
One of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, The Comedy of Errors is perhaps not as polished and intricate as his later works; it is simple, situational humour that doesn’t pretend to be anything deeper.
The plot is a bit of a stretch and too convoluted to explain in full. Briefly: a merchant, Egeon (Maitland Schnaars) and his wife, Emilia (Leilani Loau) have two boys who are identical twins and inexplicably both named Antipholus (played by Skyler Ellis and Felix Jozeps). Each son has a servant who are also identical twin boys and both named Dromio (played in a gender-casting twist by Ella Prince and Julia Billington).
Three decades prior to the timeframe of the play, the family was split asunder by a dramatic event, with half the twins ending up on the island of Ephesus and half in the city of Syracuse.
Long story short, the Syracuse pair go to Ephesus in search of Antipholus’ twin brother, Antipholus, and their undisclosed presence on the island causes mayhem and confusion.
Giema Contini plays Adriana, wife of Antipholus from Ephesus. Her character is at the centre of the embroilment and Contini is marvellous in her despair and bewilderment.
Joseph “Wunujaka” Althouse plays Adriana’s brother, Luciano. In Shakespeare’s original version, Luciano is actually Luciana, Adriana’s sister. The switch in gender provides ample, if predictable, gags.
Alex King plays several roles, her main one being the Duke – again playing with gender. She has a commanding presence on stage. Lauren Richardson is delightful as the silver-adorned courtesan and the unwitting goldsmith.
The whole ensemble participates in several breakout dances, á la ’70s TV variety shows. It’s a hoot.
Hugh O’Connor’s set and costume designs are inspired, sitting somewhere between a 1970s children’s show and pantomime. The set is minimal, relying on a canvas backdrop, two large unconvincing palm trees, a neon sign, and sundry props. The ensemble double as stage hands, making particularly clever use of three small staircases on casters.
Bell Shakespeare’s production embraces the ridiculousness of the plot with lots of self-aware, vaudevillian slapstick humour and knowing winks. It’s camp and ribald, frenetically paced and acted with broad, strokes and it is a total riot.