The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

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This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and also one of his best. This new production at Shakespeare’s Globe is a finely crafted, raucous interpretation that creates one of the funniest theatrical evenings for some time.

Slapstick is a key element of Blanche McIntyre’s direction, starting even before curtain up as Dromio of Ephesus (Jamie Wilkes) evokes the spirits of Keaton and Wisdom with a step-ladder based silent routine. The evening is peppered with impressively choreographed fight sequences that mix thrills and humour in equal measure.

The tale of two pairs of estranged identical twins relies not upon the battles, good as they are, but on pace, scripting and delivery from the four principals. It is here where The Comedy of Errors really begins to fly. Wilkes and his Syracusian counterpart, Brodie Ross, excel as the put-upon servants whose attempts to do what they are told are perpetually foiled by the frequent cases of mistaken identity. As the Antipholus brothers, Simon Harrison and Matthew Needham are just as equally matched. The quartet are each discrete individuals, but the constant mistaking of one brother is utterly believable – one of the hardest tasks in making this play work, but due to good casting, high quality performances and designer James Cotterrill’s sumptuous costumes, it appears to be truly effortless.

The supporting cast of Ephesians help propel the story forwards at every turn. The women vying for the attentions of the Antipholus brothers – Hattie Ladbury’s Adriana, Becci Gemmell as her sister Luciana, and Emma Jerrold threatening to steal the show as a platform-heeled courtesan – bring ferocity, charm and vitaility to characters which can so easily be ciphers. Paul Brendan’s jeweller is a master of comic timing, while Andy Apollo elevates his otherwise straight roles as the town’s law enforcement officials with a performance as outlandishly absurd as his costume.

With any production of The Comedy of Errors, the most difficult passages are often the framing serious elements, as the Syracusian duke Egeon (James Laurenson) is threatened with death. That is the same here, not helped by a delivery by Laurenson that lacks the zip and warmth so prevalent elsewhere.

But there is so much excellence on display thoughout the evening that the occasional misjudged performance can easily be overlooked. As frenetic, farcical slapstick comedies go, the Globe has come up with a superb production that succeeds on every level.

The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe5Scott Matthewman2014-09-06 21:15:46This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and also one of his best…

The 39 Steps, Aylesbury Waterside

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The 39 Steps has always been a tricky novel to dramatise. As three films and a recent TV adaptation have proved, to make it a truly suspenseful spy thriller it necessary to treat John Buchan’s as a skeleton, on which to hang the meat crafted by others’ hands.

Probably the best loved of all versions of The 39 Steps is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, starring Robert Donat. And it’s this one which forms the basis for Patrick Barlow’s stage comedy, first staged in 2005 before a new production directed by Maria Aitken transferred from the Tricycle Theatre to Piccadilly’s Criterion Theatre in September 2006, where it is still currently running.

The touring production of The 39 Steps, currently in residence until Saturday at the Waterside, is true to the Olivier and Tony Award-winning original. It has to be – Barlow’s script is deceptively precise in its comedy. It may look resolutely low-budget in the props department – trains are constructed from luggage trunks, the Forth Bridge from a couple of stepladders – but that is a deliberate part of its carefully constructed charm.

Richard Ede’s Hannay, a suavely chauvinistic 1930s bachelor-about-town, is accompanied by a cast of just three others, with Tony Bell, Gary Mackay and Charlotte Peters taking on a range of roles each. Bell and Mackay in particular must contend with frequent fast changes, playing two or three characters in the same scene with only hat, coat and voice to indicate which is which. This does lead to some frenetic slapstick moments – all of which look off-the-cuff, but (having seen the show twice in the West End) are more carefully choreographed than many a dance show.

In common with Hitchcock’s film, Barlow’s play works best when the spy story is pushed to the background and character fare can come to the fore. Indeed, the audience seemed unsure what to expect until several minutes in, as two secret agents have to bring on stage their own lamppost under which to skulk – and must run off, and back on, frequently as Hannay repeatedly returns to the window to look out on them. It’s only at this point that the intrinsic silliness is embraced by all, setting up many other visual comedy elements.

At times, the attempts to shoehorn in references to titles of other Hitchcock films are a little too laboured. Peters, a recent graduate, doesn’t yet have quite the stage presence to pull off the twin roles of femme fatale and demure love interest that the script demands of her – but this doesn’t detract too much from what is a fun evening of crafted silliness that glories in the twin absurdities of theatre and spy capers.

The 39 Steps is at Aylesbury Waterside until February 23 (see atgtickets.com/aylesbury for more details). The tour than continues until July 2013 – for dates and venues, see the official website.

The 39 Steps, Aylesbury Waterside3Scott Matthewman2013-02-19 08:50:13The 39 Steps has always been a tricky novel to dramatise. As three films and a recent TV adaptation have proved, to make it a truly suspenseful spy th…

Paul Sinha: Last Christmas, Soho Theatre Upstairs

In August, most British comedians move up to Edinburgh. It’s a huge part of the comedy year – several comedians will spend the months preceding to try out their new material and hone it, deliver it once a night at the Fringe, and then spend the next few months reusing that material wherever they can until it’s time to start the cycle again.
Paul Sinha has, in the past, done a similar pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a renowned sports fanatic, though, he chose to forego that experience this year in order to attend the London Olympics. And that means that, in a month where London comedy is usually running on depleted stock, we get his new show, “Last Christmas”.

Now the last time I saw Sinha live was at Comedy Camp, back when the bar on Archer Street that is now an identikit wine bar was a gay venue called Barcode and had regular comedy nights every Tuesday. This was probably at least ten years ago now, but Sinha’s relaxed, self-deprecating warmth hasn’t changed.

Introduced by a cheesy acoustic version of Wham!’s Yuletide hit, Sinha – an inveterate quizzer, ranked 20th in the UK and now a regular on ITV1’s The Chase – treats us to some trivia about the pop tune, before revealing that has no basis for the rest of the show: instead, it is about his own last Christmas, during which he found himself joining his family on a jeep trip through the Himalayas and genuinely thought he was going to die.

What follows is an exploration of what is necessary to have led a satisfying life, and around that hang various anecdotes from Sinha’s own life.

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Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios

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Back in September 2010, I reviewed Yes Prime Minister at the Gielgud Theatre, where I wrote:

The result is a farce that works well throughout. The political satire may aim for obvious targets – European projects derailed by national self-interests, the BBC’s uneasy relationship with government, general confusion on all sides about climate change – but it pretty much nails them every time…

…At times, the pace does flag a bit, particularly in the second act. But the bigger problem, post-interval, is one of casting structure. Sir Humphrey is absent for most of Act Two, which unbalances the dynamic and forces Bernard to assume more of the cunning and guile of his mentor than his character should possess.

All that remains true, now that the production has returned to the West End after a UK tour. In its new home of Trafalgar Studios, sitting appropriately at the top of Whitehall, Yes Prime Minister remains a fun farce, albeit one where the fast pace is verbal rather than physical.

Unfortunately, there are cast and script changes that mean that the returning version is weaker than it was before it went walkabout.

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Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios3Scott Matthewman2012-07-11 11:13:22Yes Prime Minister returns to the West End, weakened by plot changes after its UK tour

If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre

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Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs from shows that did not last particularly long, and to different degrees their 2010 and 2011 shows, Blink! Twice and Blink Again!. There probably won’t be a 2012 version, as Above the Stag’s home of The Stag pub was recently closed as part of the redevelopment of the area around London Victoria station.

A series of concerts on the same theme has been running at New York’s Joe’s Café for a while now. And while each iteration of Blink! was a show that would repeat each night, If It Only Even Runs a Minute promises to be different each time, as befits a series of occasional concerts. The beauty of that format is that it can be as flexible as possible, and allow many guest stars to make a one-night commitment to perform songs from shows that they were in.

Last night saw the first in a hopeful series of UK equivalents at the Landor Theatre. And while it was a bit of a shambolic mess at times, it was at the very least a loveable mess, with some cracking performances.

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If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-04-24 19:53:22Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs…

Edinburgh Fringe 2011: The Overcoat, Pleasance Dome

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Gogol’s short story of The Overcoat, about a hard-working but overlooked clerk whose fortunes change for the better – and then, spectacularly and fatally, for the worse – on the acquisition of an expensive new overcoat, receives an imaginatively modern reworking by Finnish writer Sami Keski-Vahala.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2011: The Overcoat, Pleasance Dome5Scott Matthewman2011-08-30 09:33:08Gogol’s short story of The Overcoat, about a hard-working but overlooked clerk whose fortunes change for the better – and then, spectacularly and fa…

Edinburgh Fringe 2011: This is Soap, C venues

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A mini-review for This is Soap, performed by the same cast as Shakespeare for Breakfast. An improvised soap opera with a story that has been progressing over the course of the Fringe, by its nature this show’s content varies every show.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2011: This is Soap, C venues3Scott Matthewman2011-08-28 17:05:24A mini-review for This is Soap, performed by the same cast as Shakespeare for Breakfast. An improvised soap opera with a story that has been progressi…

Edinburgh Fringe 2011: Shakespeare for Breakfast, C venues

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There are a number of breakfast-time shows in the Fringe, laying on coffee and croissants to entice people out of their beds after a late night of theatre/comedy/clubbing/whatever. One of the longest running is Shakespeare for Breakfast, which the publicity posters proudly proclaim is now in its twentieth year.

For all its longevity, though, I didn’t know too much about it, other than a friend of mine was closely involved in the production. So I was completely bowled over by an hour of comedy that was the perfect start to a full day of fringe theatre.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2011: Shakespeare for Breakfast, C venues5Scott Matthewman2011-08-29 14:53:43There are a number of breakfast-time shows in the Fringe, laying on coffee and croissants to entice people out of their beds after a late night of the…

Park Avenue Cat, Arts Theatre

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I’m not going to devote a full review to Park Avenue Cat, because I’ve already wasted enough of my life on this poor quality comedy currently playing at the Arts Theatre (also, because I want to field test my WordPress-powered blog’s “aside” format, but that’s just the techie in me).

A good calibre of cast – Gray O’Brien, Tessa Peake-Jones, Josefina Gabrielle and Daniel Weyman – struggle with a tale of a woman who can’t seem to decide between her rich but emotionally unconnected boyfriend, or her super-rich and extremely randy ex. Would that we all had such troubles…

The bulk of the action takes place in a therapist’s office, which belies most of the play’s problems – everybody talks about their feelings at every opportunity. I know plays that are all subtext can be exhausting, but believe me, those with none at all are far worse.

Park Avenue Cat, Arts Theatre1Scott Matthewman2011-07-26 14:27:05I’m not going to devote a full review to Park Avenue Cat, because I’ve already wasted enough of my life on this poor quality comedy currently playing …

In preview: Lend Me a Tenor, Gielgud Theatre

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Last night was the first preview of a new musical, Lend Me a Tenor, at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. If the name seems familiar, that’s because it previously existed as a knockabout farce of the same name, which had success at the same theatre (then called the Globe) 25 years ago and was recently revived on Broadway.

This new musical version see Ken Ludwig’s original play adapted by Peter Sham (book and lyrics) and Brad Carroll (music) into an evening of riotous comedy, high farce, stirring musical numbers, great tap routines – pretty much your perfect night at a musical.

And that was only the first preview. I can only imagine how it will improve before press night on June 15.

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In preview: Lend Me a Tenor, Gielgud Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:40Last night was the first preview of a new musical, Lend Me a Tenor, at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. If the name seems familiar, that’s b…