Comedy of Errors (National Theatre, 31st December 2011)

The Olivier stage is a large space and this production uses the space extremely well. The large towering buildings move around to represent different parts of the city, and even become the shipwreck where the twins were separated.  There is a sense of the commercial business taking place in the city as well as the darker aspects of life there, such as the prostitutes and the hustlers.  Though on the surface things seem fine, underneath there is a more sinister side as the potential execution of a man hovers over the events.

I thought that Lenny Henry (Antipholus of Syracuse) was spot on with the verse speaking.  He used a Nigerian accent and this worked well and also added to the comedy because his twin did not have the same accent.  A points we got some of Henry’s stock voices (and faces), but I didn’t feel they intruded. Playing alongside Henry, Chris Jarman is extremely good as Antipholus of Ephesus.   It was great to see him in something else after playing the Prince of Morocco in the recent RSC Merchant of Venice. There are also two great performances from Claudie Blakey as Adriana and Michelle Terry as her sister, who manage to negotiate extremely high heels as they try to make sense of the strange behaviour of the men around them.

The production left me wondering why anyone doesn’t catch on to the fact that the twins from Syracuse have arrived in town, especially as the father explained the circumstances at the start of the play.  The play is about confusion and mistaken identity and this leads to the slapstick humour, which is wonderfully highlighted when the twins from Syracuse arrive and cause mayhem in the town square, ending in a traditional pie in the face.  The band link scenes extremely well as they sing pop songs in a foreign language .

I thought this production was extremely entertaining and I am looking forward to seeing how it looks on NT Live.

Reviews and Previews

The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre (Olivier), London –

The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre – review | Theatre


There Ought to be Clowns

Rev Stan


In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and  in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see.  I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.

Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.

The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February.  Some of the productions that I liked  in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving.  In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’  nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre.  I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra  in the Swan theatre.  When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly.  The last day  that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet.  The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.

The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting.  This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world.  Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage.  Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas.   However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan.  This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.

Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper.  I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.

In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.

I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and  I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did.  I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.

I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production  which was set in a mental hospital.   The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.

I saw three different Comedy of Errors.  The year with the magnificent all male Propeller  Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed  in April.

Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and  Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.

…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well.  James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.

Best of 2011

Here is my best of.. lists. The following post discusses what I thought about the year.

Shakespeare in the Theatre

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC at the RST)

2. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

3. Hamlet (The National Theatre)

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

5.The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Sheffield)

6. Antony and Cleopatra with Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva (RSC at the RST)

7. Macbeth (RSC)

8. The Merchant of Venice (RSC)

9. King Lear (RSC at the RST and Roundhouse)

10. Hamlet (Young Vic)

11. Othello (The Crucible, Sheffield)

12. As You Like It (RSC at Roundhouse)

13. Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)

14. All Well That End’s Well (The Globe)

15. The Comedy of Errors (Young Person’s at RSC)

16. Hamlet (Northern Broadsides at West Yorkshire Playhouse)

17. Hamlet (Globe touring)

18. The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre)

19. Richard III (Old Vic)

20. Richard II (Donmar)

21. Hamlet (Young Person’s at RSC)

22.  King Lear (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

23.  The Tempest (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

24.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC, RST)

25. Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Other Theatre

1. Jerusalem (Apollo)

2. The Homecoming (RSC at the Swan)

3. Frankenstein (The National)

4. One Man, Two Guvnors (The Lowry)

5. Anna Christie (Donmar)

6. The City Madam (RSC, The Swan)

7. Dr Faustus (The Globe)

8. Betrayal (Harold Pinter/Comedy)

9. Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar)

10. Cardenio (RSC, The Swan)

11. Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead (Haymarket)

12. Grief (The National)

13. 13 (The National)

14. Silence (RSC at Hampstead)

15. Little Eagles (RSC at Hampstead)

16. Season’s Greetings (National Theatre)

17. Juno and the Paycock (National)

18. Cause Célèbre (Old Vic)

19. Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

20. Moonlight (Donmar)

21. The Crucible (York Theatre Royal)

22. The Heretic (Royal Court)

23. Forty Years On (York Theatre Royal)

24. American Trade (RSC at Hampstead)

25. Beggar’s Opera (Belt Up at York Theatre Royal)

Note: Forty Years On is here for proud Mum reasons.


1. John Martin (Tate Britain)

2. Ford Maddox Brown (Manchester City Art Gallery)

3. Degas (Royal Academy)

4. Leonardo da Vinci (National Gallery)

5. Juma Plensa (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

6. Glamour of the Gods (National Portrait Gallery)

7. Gerhard Ritcher (Tate Modern)

8. First Actresses (National Portrait Gallery)

9. Miro (Tate Modern)

10. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum)

11. Gabriel Orozco (Tate Modern)

12. Watteau (Royal Academy)

13. Hokusai’s Great wave (British Museum)

14. Treasures of Heaven (British Museum)

15. Devotion by Design (National Gallery)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show 2012

17. Building the Revolution (Royal Academy )

18. Barry Flanagan (Tate Britain)

19. Grayson Perry (British Museum)

20. Tacita Dean (Tate Modern)

My great cultural moments of 2011

Meeting Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn

First night of Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing

Last night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Romeo and Juliet

First night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – King Lear

The performance of the year – Adam James as Don Pedro in Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing – just wonderful.

Edinburgh Festival

The RSC Ensemble Revealed at the Swan Theatre.

Best actor and actress

Best Actor – Adam James in Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

Best Actress – Eve Best in Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe)

The Comedy of Errors (22nd January 2011, Sheffield)

Some productions play Shakespeare in what some people might term as traditional and it can be fine, but what I really enjoy is when I come across a production that takes risks, because when they come off, they can be exciting and memorable. Propeller’s The Comedy of Errors was such a production.

Set in Mexico (or possibly Spain), the actors were able to convey the sense of the heat and the street life.  It was clearly a tourist destination waiting for the unsuspecting visitors from Syracuse.

What I liked the most about this production was the way the company were on stage throughout.  Wearing dark glasses and football shirts, they play interments throughout providing music and jokey sounds to comment on the action.  Just a shake of their heads was beguiling, and they reminded me a little of Robert Palmer’s backing band.  This device was used to great effect in that actors could move in and out of character and it also presented them with a device to make sure everyone was in the right place for the reveal at the end.

The play includes some of the typical tropes of comedy such as misappropriation of purse, and twins, but what Propeller’s production did brilliantly was play wonderfully on the stereotypes to great effect. We see the vain officer, the drag queen, and tanned dealer selling  what he can.

We are very clear that men are playing women, but I felt I believed in the characters. I really enjoyed this production and certainly want to see more.

Previews and Reviews

The Comedy of Errors/Richard III – review | Stage | The Guardian
Comedy of Errors – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield / Arts / Theatre & Dance – The Comedy of Errors/Richard III, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, UK
The Comedy of Errors / Richard III, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield – Reviews, Theatre & Dance – The
Richard lll and The Comedy of Errors; Greenland | review | Culture | The Observer
Richard III/The Comedy of Errors, Sheffield Lyceum, review – Telegraph


The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest (Ripley Castle, Library Gardens York)

Open air Shakespeare is about having an entertaining afternoon/evening out, as much as it is about searching out that brilliant performance of Shakespearean production. Of course when going to any theatre, there is a hope it will be entertaining, but open air Shakespeare brings with it all the ritual of what you do before and during the performance. Armed with picnic and low backed chairs, the experience is about finding a nice spot to settle down eat food and get a good view of the performance and the surroundings in which the performance takes place.

There are some tips to consider when embarking on open air Shakespeare. Make sure you have layers of clothes to put on as the night gets colder (if it is at night). Don’t get envious of other people’s food. You’ve got enough and other people are as envious as you are. There’s no need to wish that you’d got an endless supply of alcohol, as you see ofter people opening bottle after bottle, because there are always fewer toilets at open air Shakespeare than other theatres (and ladies will know that’s saying something).

Open air Shakespeare can be wonderful if the sun is out, but if it rains, it might make the storm scene in The Tempest feel realistic, but sitting watching Shakespeare getting drenched can really make you feel that you are suffering for art. This is often the risk you take when buying your tickets and hoping the day will be beautiful. The benefits are clearly the fresh air and the nature around you. As well as actors there is often a cast of birds anf bats taking part.

Open air Shakespeare tends to play safe with the text, the sets are minimal so it would be unusual to get some of the thoughtful designs in the major theatre such as Tom Piper sets. The open air Shakespeare has the advantage of the settings and can use the space in different ways.

We saw an interesting use of space in The Comedy of Errors at Ripley Castle (Globe Company)and The Tempest in York’s Library Gardens the night after (Sprite). There were the usual jokes around audience members and Dromio (Miltos Yerolemou) got laughs as he pinched food from the members of the audience. The cast of The Tempest made entrances and exits from different areas of the gardens.

In both productions the two companies made much of doubling up. You could argue that Sprite overdid this with most of the cast taking turns to play Ariel and often in unison. The Globe company used one actor to play Antipholus (Ronan Raftery) and Dromio. The Syracusians look like tourists and wear glasses, the others don’t. This worked extremely well and made the last scene really funny. Indeed, in the final scene all the doubling up worked well in getting laughs.

We went to watch The Tempest and it stayed very nice for the actual storm, but there was a little drizzle later on. For The Comedy of Errors, it stayed dry but got really chilly later on. Good Shakespeare and a great night out.