Rather than producing one of Shakespeare’s famous tragedies, the National Theatre has chosen a lesser-known comedy to warm up London’s theatregoers this winter. Starring Lenny Henry, who is still reaping praise for his recent appearance as the lead in Othello, The Comedy of Errors offers light-hearted laughs, with the inevitable Shakespearian splendour.
Lenny Henry is being presented as the star of the show; however, being a quarter of two sets of twins, the pressure is on for him to make an impact, if he is not to be overlooked theatrically. Donning a deep Jamaican accent for the role of Antipholus of Syracuse, Henry’s first appearance on this legendary stage is outstanding: aided by his “twin” Dromio of Ephesus (wonderfully played by Daniel Poyser), whose East London accent juxtaposes ingeniously with Henry’s. The pair open the play with an exceptional interpretation of Shakespeare’s words.
…Blakely and Terry give defiant dignity to their characters.
Sadly, this scene is let down by a highly unconvincing fight between Poyser and Henry. Perhaps this can be forgiven – the production is in its early stages and this scene could potentially improve with time. However, on such a prestigious stage, I would argue that there is no room for anything other than perfection.
Although the marketing is centralised around Henry, he is not the highlight of this production. The two sisters, Adriana (Claudie Blakely) and Luciana (Michelle Terry) steal the show with their strong, yet fantastically fitting Essex accents. The familiarity of this accent, potentially due to the popular television programme The Only Way is Essex, gives these two characters an endearing edge that may not have been achieved if the lines were spoken in the Queen’s English. It adds a highly amusing element to the Shakespearian English: the pronunciation of “quofe” in lieu of “quoth” was a particular highlight.
Despite the modern association of the accent, both Blakely and Terry manage to give a defiant dignity to their individual characters. Emphasising their characters’ laudable values beautifully: Blakely’s fierce Adriana is innocent to her own infidelity (due to twin confusion) but stands by her husband in spite of his shameless affairs, and Terry’s charming Luciana remains loyal to her sister despite temptation by her brother-in-law.
This play is far from a bit of comic relief.
The audience is encouraged to feel a closeness with and a deep understanding of the two sisters. This is arguably not the case with the twins, where the audience is kept distanced and somewhat confused. This is partly an effect of the script: the twins are responsible for most of the play’s comedy, if Shakespeare had allowed his audience a closer relationship with them this could potentially remove a significant amount of the play’s comic appeal. Devling deeper into the relationships between the Dromios and their corresponding Antipholus, which is at times abusive and exploitative, could make the farcical elements of the play less amusing.
Credit must be given to the rest of the cast: the loveable Dromio of Syracuse (Lucian Msamati), the intimidating Antipholus of Ephesus (Chris Jarman) and the terrifying Solinus (Ian Burfield) all add to the production’s comedic success. Additionally, the clever use of varying accents aids the audience’s understanding of the confusing plot: Posyer and Msamati are particularly convincing as a set of twins.
This cultured comedy guarantees an excellent night out: first class acting, a household name and the fabulous location of the National Theatre. This play is far from a bit of comic relief.
The production runs until 1 April 2012.
Tickets from £12
Images courtesy of The National Theatre