Why, yes, that is a naked man running through the auditorium with a lit sparkler sticking out of his bum. And yes, that is a Pentecostal demon exorcism done as a catchy revival tune. And did the fishnet-stockinged Abbess just enter to the musical strains of “Like a Prayer”? My God, they have gone Lady Gaga in "Alejandro" and are making Madonna references. Brilliant.
If Propellor’s Comedy of Errors, directed by Edward Hall, is near the complete opposite of the spectrum from Richard III in subject matter, a similar sense of energy and fun runs through both productions. In designer Michael Pavelka’s Comedy set, the harsh scaffolding remains, but is transformed by tacky colored lights. Corrugated metal sheets form a back and side paneling, spraypainted with graffiti and garish colors. The Antipholus costumes are purple-lavender numbers, and the Dromios are bedecked in smiley-face T-shirts and wigs. Robert Hands as Adriana is smashing in leopard-print leggings, gilded high-heels, and a leopard-print lined yellow dress. And huge eyelashes. Adriana’s sister Lucina (David Newman) is, by comparison, slightly more subdued, in light pink horn-rimmed glasses and a powdery Tooth Fairy dress. Also of note is Kelsey Brookfield’s Courtesan costume, a wild stripper outfit with curly wig and bunny ears. The more outrageous, the better.
As was apparent in the choral singing in Richard III, the Propeller company is ferociously musically talented. Like the opening of Richard III, the company is on stage as the audience enters the auditorium, but this time they are dressed in wide-brimmed sombreros and bright sports jerseys, and they are singing. Every variety of torture implement has been replaced by every variety of musical instrument—accordion, guitar, maracas, fiddles, woodblocks, flute. Music and sound effects continue throughout the production without becoming overbearing. Whistles and thumping sound effects provide humorous punctuation to the many kicks and hits delivered to the Dromios. A running sound-effects joke involves a bell being rung every time a character says the word “chain.” The music continues into the interval, when the company enters the theatre’s foyer and strikes up a dance-beat version of “Material Girl” (“in fourteen-part harmony!”), while collecting money for charity.
The production begins quietly, with an uncluttered rendering of Aegeon’s (John Dougall) backstory. But the pace ramps up upon the introduction of Antipholus (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Dromio (Richard Frame) of Syracuse and the comic mis-matches that begin as they are mistaken by Adriana (Robert Hands) for Antipholus (Sam Swainsbury) and Dromio (Jon Trenchard) of Ephesus. More hijinks ensue: the porter scene is conducted through an intercom system, until, in a hilarious bit of comic escalation, Swainsbury rips the intercom out of the wall and proceeds to stamp the life out of it, to no avail. The discussion of the kitchen wench—one of the best gags in Shakespeare—is made clear and hilarious by Frame’s expressions. The first half is a brisk one hour, but packed chock-full of snappy ideas. The second half, though, sees this Comedy is all its uncontrolled glory, complete with Tony Bell as a side-splitting Pinch. He is presented as a Pentecostal revivalist, willing to exorcise demons—for a price. In a pointed jab at televangelists, he whips out a credit card machine, and Adriana swipes her card before Pinch carries on with his ridiculous exorcism. The end of the scene results in one set of Antipholus/Dromio stuffed in rubbish bins (Bell says, “Cleanse them, Norwich City Council”), while the other set (or is it the same one?) flees to the aforementioned “Like A Prayer” abbey. Chris Myles as Aemilia is the whip-carrying Abbess, and the production makes no attempt to distinguish between religious zealotry and sexual pleasure.
As an exaggerated farce, Propeller’s Comedy of Errors offers wicked entertainment combined with a clear rendering of the script. It is both a visual and aural pleasure, and proves that a Madonna reference does wonders in any genre—even Shakespeare.