The Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of The Comedy of Errors at Camden’s Roundhouse is nothing if not ambitious.
The seedy markets of Shakespeare’s Ephesus become a rundown dockland reminiscent of the Baltimore Docks from the second season of The Wire. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse (two sets of twins, separated at birth from their respective Ephesus-based siblings) arrive in a crate as illegal immigrants. Prostitutes and hawkers selling knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags roam the docks, always on the lookout for the sinister armed security forces.
Merchants become modern-day wide-boys, clad in leisurewear, camel-skin jackets and shiny polyester suits. The king is a Glaswegian mobster who rules the underworld with an iron fist: the opening scene sees his security goons half drowning a hapless Egeon in an aquarium.
The Comedy of Errors is hardly a subtle play but director Amir Nizar Zuabi ramps up the camp and slapstick. Crates, actors and entire houses are delivered to the stage on a giant cargo winch; dock workers and police become marching bands playing live music; characters are flown overhead, while others are plunged into the giant aquariums at the edge of the stage.
At times the production skates a little close to pantomime and the high-camp of the Dromio twins can get a bit grating, especially in a scene in which Nell (who never appears on stage in the original text), attempts to squire one of them with a marrow.
At least it never gets dull – the production bulldozes through the text at breakneck speed. It’s not a classic but you won’t forget it in a hurry either.
First published in City A.M.