At first, I was somewhat concerned that the striking modern metallic set was sterile place for this comedy; but it soon became evident to me that it was really a superb visual context for the over-the-top style of the piece. Now let me explain: upon entering the theatre, the audience is greeted by an enchanting aqua tinted entirely metallic space, featuring a model of what might be a galleon under full sail and a tiny portrait of the Queen. This set features a number of witty contrivances that allow quick insertion of furnishings and occasionally even characters, much to the delight of the audience. The technical virtuosity did not end there: one scene was shot as a TV reality episode which was projected large onto one of the metallic walls, thereby heightening the melodramatic elements of an intensely funny scene. Kudos to Eo Sharp for the amazing long bar and several other features, including the wonderful statue of the Madonna and the delightful trashy courtesan costume.
The production also features some interesting gender twists. Traditionally the two sets of identical twins are played by men; however, this production featured two male actors as one set of twins and two female actors playing the other twins as a pair of low class males. This directorial decision heightened the comedy, as it inserted into the comic dimension of fun of watching women caricature exaggerated male mannerisms. The effect was quite delightful, as what might have been just salacious was elevated to high farce. Example: Dromio farts through the mail slot directly onto his counterpart’s very close face. On the subject of gender twists, Stephen Lawson’s turn as both the gay stenographer and the transvestite courtesan was both engaging and fun in a Lady Gaga sort of way.
A comedy like this is intended to entertain, without any particular nod to meaningfulness. The production is very entertaining, as the plot is founded almost entirely in the concept of dramatic irony; that it is, the audience knows significant things that the characters do not. This allows the audience to keep abreast of the comic confusions that bedeviled the characters whose happiness depends upon the resolution of predicaments that seem irresolvable. These predicaments all stem from mistaken identity, which is very easy to set up when you have twins, particularly two sets of identical twins. What gives the mistaken identity a great deal of credibility in this instance is the clever costume designs. Because the actors playing the twins resemble each other only superficially, the costumes have to do the job; otherwise, suspension of disbelief by the audience for this production would be somewhat similar to the suspension we all give when nobody in the world can penetrate Clark Kent’s glasses to see that **spoiler alert**—holy moley, Batman! Clark Kent is Superman—duh.
I mentioned above that the acting was over the top. I have seen acting “over the top” in so-called professional theatres where it was so bad I could hardly stay in the room. The actors in this production were in no danger of that reaction from the audience, as they knew exactly how to make the technique work. I believe that the key to playing over the top successfully is for the actor to believe that his character is real, must be taken seriously, and that he must become totally engaged in the mores and intentions of the character. The result is that the audience sees the performance as the kind of heightened experience we sometimes have when we see in our friends during their most joyous or excited or distressed or angry moments. It is the actor as observer working with the director as the observer of human nature, who can bring this very delicate and profoundly empathic understanding to bear on what is an intense observation of humanity in extremis, that would otherwise be dismissible as merely silly, and, unfortunately, not very entertaining.
This company works together like an ensemble: sound and lighting are seamless and effective, performances are all contributions to the greater good, and with another nod to the costumes, the cast of twelve was able to surprise us that at the curtain call there were only twelve actors on stage (Yes, I did read the program, but it sure felt like twenty or more.) And I am not going to complain that there was no intermission. Well done all.
Performance reviewed: April 17, 7:30 pm Running time 110 min.
The National Arts Centre English Theatre and Centaur Theatre (Montreal) Present
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
The Cast: Andreas Apergis as Antipholus of Ephesus; Clare Coulter playing The Abbess at Ephesus; Danielle Desormeaux as Dromio of Syracuse; Braulio Elicer in the roles of Angelo, a goldsmith and Officer of the Law; Marcel Jeannin as Antipholus of Syracuse; Debra Kirshenbaum as Dromio of Ephesus; Stephen Lawson in the roles of Balthazar (a merchant) and a Courtesan; Danette MacKay as Adriana (wife of Anthipholus of Ephesus); Adrienne Mei Irving in the roles of Luce (a servant to Adriana), Officer of the law and a Merchant (to whom Angelo is a debtor); Albert Millaire as Aegeon (a merchant of Syracuse); Leni Parker as Luciana (Adriana’s sister); Paul Rainville in the roles of SOLINUS (Duke of Ephesus) and DR. PINCH (a psychic investigator).
The Company: Director Peter Hinton, Set and Costume Designer Eo Sharp, Lighting Designer Robert Thomson, Sound Designer Troy Slocum, Fight Director Jean-François Gagnon, Stage Manager Stéfanie Séguin, Assistant Stage Manager Todd Bricker.