The Rose is perhaps one of the busiest ‘fringe’ theatres in London. In its quest to raise money for its important restoration and archaeological project, the Rose has put on a series of fantastic productions, and its version of Comedy of Errors, directed by David Pearce, lives up to its reputation.
The text is a confusing tale of mixed identity and is rough in places (which can be forgiven, as it is one of the Bards earliest plays), and is notoriously hard to get right. It’s frivolous, fast, and this production cuts it down to 90 minutes. All the actors go for the more farcical and pantomime approach with exaggerated sighs, people jumping on each other, fake mustaches and throwing bananas at each other at regular intervals. The approach is at the expense of depth and makes the production a very two dimensional, though thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The two Antipholus-es (Robert Carretta and Trevor Murphy) master their roles exactly, as do the Dromio duo (Nick Kempsey and Marco Violino) who, despite the relentless pace and confusion in the plot always seem in full control. Adriana (Elizabeth Bloom) and Luciana (Victoria Oliver) seem quite mad themselves and have a lot of good energy as they move around the stage. Bloom's Yorkshire tones fit well to the role, and she comes across as bonkers, but as the story gets more complex and a bit more serious, she becomes more confused and in many ways makes the play, as she tries to figure out what her husband has been up to. The sisters have excellent chemistry throughout.As ever, the tiny space in the Rose makes the audience feel part of the action, especially with Gareth Pilkington’s Egeon, asking all the audience for money to be spared his life and showing pictures of his children and wife.
Pearce seems aware that less than a mile away the National Theatre is putting on its own glitzy and celebrity-rich version with a huge budget, and makes his production self-aware and ironic. The swords look deliberately amateurish, and the Duke rides on a toy horse. The audience is even reminded at the end they can buy any props they see. The costumes are all contemporary which gives it that amateurish ambiance, which the audience enjoys, especially with Dromio who wears comedy glasses throughout. Maps of Syracuse and Ephesus are hand drawn and stickered around, and at the end, a projector with credits is hijacked for an impromptu and hilarious shadow puppet show by the cast.
The Rose's Comedy of Errors is stripped down to a shallow, fast and immature form which does the play’s comedic strengths justice. It is wonderfully absurd and is highly recommended if you want a good night out on the South Bank, with proceeds going to a genuinely worthy cause. Tickets cost £12, and the show runs until May 4. Click here to find out more about their work in restoring the old theatre.