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 new Doctor Who to be revealed – and who I’d like it to be

Who would have believed, back in 2003 when the revival of Doctor Who was announced, that ten years on not only would the series still be ongoing, but news of the lead actor’s recasting would be presented in a live TV programme?

Yet that is what is happening.

Continue reading The new Doctor Who to be revealed – and who I’d like it to be

Much Ado About Nothing

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Yesterday, I finally got to see Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in twelve days in black and white in and around Whedon’s California home, most of the cast have worked with Whedon on previous projects, and that’s clearly helped achieve the sort of directorial clarity that other films can’t always manage. 

Much Ado About Nothing [DVD] [2012] (DVD)


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Including some silent flashbacks of Beatrice and Benedick’s previous liaison is a luxury stage productions can’t have, but here it helps establish the cause of their antagonistic relationship in a nutshell. She fell for his charms once, and her antipathy towards him is as much regret for her own part in that one-night stand.

Amy Acker’s Beatrice is wonderful: strong, compassionate, fragile, quick, strong, headstrong. I said in my preview blog post that I’ve never been particularly enamoured with Alexis Denisof, and for the most part that opinion hasn’t changed: however, his farcical acrobatics as he overhears Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro talk about how Beatrice is in love with him are hilariously accomplished. His weakest scenes are those where he must monologue his way through his internal thought processes. On stage, Benedick can use the audience as confidantes: no such luck on film – although at one point he addresses an imagined audience within Whedon’s garden amphitheatre, and that just about works.

Clark Gregg’s Leonato is a warm, genial figure – and not a little camp, which is no bad thing – while Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro and Sean Maher as his bastard brother, Don John, provide solid, ever watchable interpretations of those stock characters.

As the secondary couple, Jillian Morgese is little more than a cipher in the thankless role of Hero, far eclipsed by Fran Kranz’s Claudio. As the smitten young man who allows Don John’s lies to lead him to believe his fiancée has been unfaithful to him, Kranz is astonishing. He’s been a supporting actor in several Whedon projects up to now, but I really hope that this role is enough to get casting directors considering him for the romantic lead in future projects. 

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There is an undoubted highlight in the casting, though – Nathan Fillion as the buffoonish constable Dogberry. Fans of Doctor Horrible’s Singalong Blog know that, as Captain Hammer, Fillion can play heroically stupid like nobody else. That’s a path he not only treads again here, but trips down with abandon. He steals every scene he’s in, although Tom Lenk as his assistant Verges is a hilarious accomplice in that regard.

The music is also wonderful, composed by Whedon, produced by his brother Jed and featuring the vocal talents of Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen. In terms of adapting the song Sigh No More, they do a great song that fits in with the mood of the party scenes. (I still prefer Michael Bruce’s Eighties-themed interpretation, though.)

Much Ado About nothing is still on release – for details, see the official websiteThe film is available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-Ray for release in October. The original score is available now.

Much Ado About Nothing5Scott Matthewman2013-06-23 14:17:44Yesterday, I finally got to see Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in twelve days in black and white in and around Whedon’s…

Coming soon: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

If there’s one film I’m looking forward to this June – and that ignores both Behind the Candelabra and Man of Steel – it’s Joss Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Filmed over a couple of weeks as the director took a break between production and post-production of Avengers Assemble, it was shot in and around Whedon’s home, and stars actors who have featured in several of his previous projects (for a selection of interviews with them, see this Buzzfeed article).

I’ve never been quite as enamoured with Alexis Denisof (Benedick) as Whedon seems to be, but Amy Acker’s Beatrice should be good fun. And the thought of Nathan Fillion as Dogberry…

For more details about the film, including the cinemas it’s booked to play in, visit the official site at muchadofilm.co.uk. It opens on June 14.

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.

Continue reading Edinburgh Fringe 2011: Shakespeare for Breakfast, C venues

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…

The Magician’s Daughter, Little Angel Theatre

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Recently, children’s puppetry company Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated the fact that both organisations were 50 years old by collaborating on a puppet version of The Tempest.

I didn’t see that show, sadly. So it was lovely to at least be able to see this sister project – also produced by Little Angel in association with the RSC – in which Michael Rosen creates a mini-sequel of sorts, for children aged 3 and above.

Continue reading The Magician’s Daughter, Little Angel Theatre

The Magician’s Daughter, Little Angel Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:26Recently, children’s puppetry company Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated the fact that both organisations were 50 years…

Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond Theatre

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After visiting one of Shakespeare’s great comedies on Friday, on Saturday I travelled to Richmond-upon-Thames to see how one of his greatest tragedies fared as a comedy musical.

Hamlet! The Musical is such an intrinsically silly idea that it’s no surprise that it had its genesis on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, first in 2001 and then with a reworked version in 2010. From there, the Royal & Derngate Theatres Northampton have developed it from a 50-minute fringe show into a full hour and a half.

And it’s a hoot, with a cast of six that pulls out every stop to make Hamlet! as funny as possible.

Continue reading Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond Theatre

Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:47After visiting one of Shakespeare’s great comedies on Friday, on Saturday I travelled to Richmond-upon-Thames to see how one of his greatest tragedies…

Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre

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Of all the companions that David Tennant’s Doctor had during his spell in the TARDIS, it was Donna Noble that suited him the best. Pitting Catherine Tate against Tennant’s fast-talking wide boy was a match of competing, but equal, egos. When a double act works as well as Tennant’s and Tate’s did, it’s easy to reach for the Hepburn-Tracy comparison – but it feels appropriate with this pair of actors, who fizzle and spark off each other so well that it’s hard to believe that The Runaway Bride was the first time they had worked together.

So it’s good to see that now Tennant has long since turned over his TARDIS key to the new guy, the pair have found an opportunity to work together again, in Josie Rourke’s exuberant version of Shakespeare’s screwball comedy. Casting Tennant as Benedick and Tate as Beatrice feels a safe decision – not in the sense of not casting dangerously, but in that one knows that the pair will be able to portray the ups and downs of the prototypical odd couple extremely effectively.

That said, I honestly hadn’t expected Much Ado About Nothing to be so funny. Many renditions of Shakespeare’s comedies induce little more than polite laughter, but this production regularly induces real bellyaches.

Continue reading Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre

Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:43:00Of all the companions that David Tennant’s Doctor had during his spell in the TARDIS, it was Donna Noble that suited him the best. Pitting Catherine T…

Such Tweet Sorrow: website-specific theatre that works

I have to admit that when I heard a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet was to be ‘staged’ on Twitter, I was sceptical. Not necessarily that it would be possible to play out a series of characters posting online as if they were real — that has been done before. YouTube had lonelygirl15, which continued for some time before being revealed as fictional. On Twitter itself, the characters behind web-only crime thriller Girl Number 9 conversed with each other in the run-up to the release of the first episode online.

That latter experiment didn’t really work for me, because it involved characters I did not know talking to each other about a crime case I knew even less. As such it proved hard to get drawn in.

And I thought the online Romeo and Juliet, punningly entitled Such Tweet Sorrow, might actually suffer a reverse problem. The story of Verona’s two houses both alike in dignity is so well known that it couldn’t possibly work.

Not for the first time, I was incredibly wrong. Such Tweet Sorrow (aka @Such_Tweet) is an utterly compelling retelling. But the kicker is that for it to work, you have to have it playing alongside your existing Twitter conversations. If you dip in via the official website, it just doesn’t work.

You may have heard of site-specific theatre, a “performance which can only be done in a particular place or site”. Such Tweet Sorrow is the first, truly successful, online version – website-specific theatre.

In its first few days, it was hard to adjust to some of the representations of the characters we know from Shakespeare’s play. Most of the characters’ names have been retained from the original — but apart from Juliet @julietcap16 (and, to a far lesser extent, Romeo, @romeo_mo) none of the characters’ first names really work in a modern context. When was the last time you met a Tybalt (@Tybalt_Cap) or a Mercutio (@mercuteio)?

That disparity, between medieval names and dialogue that fits in naturally with life in 2010 London, provides an initial barrier to suspension of disbelief. Some of the other characters’ integration to the storyline required more massaging. Friar Lawrence becomes @LaurenceFriar (not the most common of surnames), an internet café owner and small-time drug dealer. More successfully, the Nurse becomes Jess, Juliet and Tybalt’s older sister, who had to take on a more matronly role towards her siblings when their mother died ten years ago (explaining her @Jess_nurse username)

And just reading the characters’ tweets, either on the Twitter list page @Such_Tweet/such-tweet-sorrow or on the official website timeline, doesn’t really present the story in the correct light to get over that feeling, because it removes from the narrative the most important aspect of Twitter — that it’s a real time messaging system.

Instead, I elected to follow each of the characters, so that their tweets would show up in my own Twitter timeline, jumbled up amid those of everyone else I follow. It means that events play out at a more believable pace: Romeo had to be coaxed onto Twitter because he was too busy playing an online game with an American girl called Rosaline, and didn’t even show up in the ‘play’ for the first couple of days. A brawl between some of the Capulet and Montague boys saw abuse being hurled long after the event, just as it would in real life.

Throughout Friday, Juliet started to stress about her 16th birthday party that night (coincidentally, the youngest Capulet shares her birthday with the Bard), while the Montague boys debated whether to crash it. It may sound trite, but with events unfolding alongside your own friends planning their own Friday evening jollities, it works surprisingly well.

The story has bled out onto other websites, too, just as non-fictional conversations on Twitter do. Sites devoted to sharing photos and videos via Twitter make regular appearances, while a Tumblr-driven blog provides some insights from @Jago_klepto, a classmate of Juliet’s who provides some additional commentary.

As it stands, Romeo and Juliet spent the night together after bumping into one another at the birthday party, so we can expect the fall-out any day now. Which brings another factor into play. In the latter stages of the play, much of the tragedy comes about through the main characters’ ignorance of the others’ intentions and motivations. Juliet fakes her death; Romeo, believing her dead, poisons himself; a waking Juliet, seeing her dead lover, stabs herself.

Given the way the play has unfolded so far, I feel sure that the people planning Such Tweet Sorrow have worked out how to cope with such big secrets in an arena that is intrinsically open to everyone. It’ll be a test of their creativity, for sure — and if that closing act fails online, it will have an effect on how this venture is remembered. Right now, though, to steal a phrase from one of Shakespeare’s other masterpieces, Such Tweet Sorrow is a palpable hit.

Black and White Sextet

Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/11465/black-and-white-sextet)

Rosemary Branch, London
January 31-February 26
Author: William Shakespeare, adapted by Robert Pennant-Jones, who also directs
Producer: Rosemary Branch
Cast: Ben Onwukwe, Richard Earthy, Fliss Walton, Matt Reeves, Jason Eddy, Cleo Sylvestre
Running time: 2hrs

There is no reason why director Robert Pennant-Jones’ audacious filleting of ‘Othello;, reducing Shakespeare’s classic to two hours and a cast of six should work – but it does.

By choosing to relegate some plotlines to exposition delivered by pre-recorded video newscasts in 21st-Century English, or hinted at through snatches of mobile phone conversation, Black and White Sextet instead encourages us to focus on the emotional core of the play.

Iago dominates the first half even more than usual in this adaptation. Richard Earthy’s exaggerated portrayal may be better suited to a larger auditorium – his chilling half-whispers as he draws Othello in would be more welcome throughout.

Fliss Watson’s wide-eyed, intelligent Desdemona, whose love blinds her to her husband’s rage until the very last second, is the captivating core to this moving and intelligent production.

Once Iago’s claws are into him, Ben Onwukwe’s Othello quickly dominates the stage and with impressive support from Matt Reeves, Jason Eddy and Cleo Sylvestre one is left wondering why one should ever return to the longer version.

The seventh star of the show is Aaron Marsden’s imaginative folding set design. Rarely has a such a small space been utilised so effectively.