El Cotton-Soares and Sophie Morgan as Drama of Syracuse and Ephesus – © Barry Parsons
Nice to be back in the Maddermarket Theatre for this impressive rendition of a Shakespeare comedy classic. Before we get too reverential this is a very silly play that fully deserves a suitably eccentric production, and the Norwich Players Theatre Company have created a high energy performance that suits the script perfectly.
The values represented are probably true to 1594 England, when it was written, but include a few little details that are less fashionable now, such as buying and having slaves and beating them a lot. As you do, then, but less so now.
Egeon (Jamie Willimott) and his wife Emilia (Becky Sweet) have twin sons, then acquire another pair of twins through transaction with a poor mother. Voyaging through a tempest the shipwrecked parents get separated with each clutching a half of the pair of twins. A mixed half. This plot device determines every little bit of the action of this play.
The divided pairs of half twins end up in the same place just as their estranged father does. I could go on but that is really the whole plot. Confusion ensues. The class war bit is that in each separated pair of twins the born twins are the masters, the purchased twins the slaves. It was ever thus.
The coincidence of the two sets of twins being in the same city at the same time and being endlessly confused with each other gives us the business of this comedy. Of errors.
Director Tony Fullwood has added a great deal of character to the script in a number of ways. The costumes and design have a 1920s art deco and flapper feel, and the cast use a variety of accents which are somewhere between Bugsy Malone and The Sopranos, with at least one accent from somewhere quite close to Dereham. This is all good and fits the text bequeathed to us. The old Ipswich Norwich football rivalry also gives a colourful context to the Ephesus – Syracuse divisions of the original tale. This would play well with a more raucous audience than we joined tonight.
The four characters who do much of the work are the two sons Antipholus (of Syracuse and Ephesus) and the two servants Dromia of S&E. A bit of quite clever casting gives us near lookalikes in these key roles, with Jade North as Antipholus of Syracuse, and Caitlin Woolrich as Antipholus of Ephesus. Dromia S is El Cotton-Soares, with Dromia E played by Sophie Morgan. In a little bit of fun appropriate to this script the four main protagonists are all acted by women in these energetic and physical roles. It works a treat, not least because they are all really good.
Many years ago I did see the RSC version directed by Ian Judge where both the Antipholus twins were played by Desmond Barrit in a breathlessly fast moving version which struggled with the end where both are on stage together. This production does not take such a risk and gives us an understandable denouement which is almost a relief after the confusion of most of the play.
The Norwich Players should feel proud of their performance of this fast paced work. The two servants, Dromios as written but Dromias tonight are the scene stealers with their slapstick and quick repartee, perfectly executed, but every character before us adds their particular nuance to the whole joyful melange. The Players make full use of their home theatre, the Maddermarket, which was designed for just this sort of performance. It always takes a minute or two to settle into the contemporary language, but don’t dwell over the odd word or two, just enjoy the action and the simple but rewarding plot. Great fun for a summer evening in the city.
The Comedy of Errors is at the Maddermarket Theatre from 8-13 August. Call 01603 620917 or go to maddermarket.co.uk for more information and bookings.
© Julian Swainson , Norwich Eye, 8 August 2023