Enemy cities, a tragic shipwreck, two sets of twins separated indefinitely: so goes Shakespeare’s farce A Comedy of Errors. In Hilary Bell’s adaptation for the National Theatre of Parramatta, the story retains all the instances of mistaken identity, unfulfilled plans, wrongful arrests, and a near execution while injecting a bit of Western Sydney flair.
An old Syracusean man (Lindy Sardelic) turns up in Ephesus with a death wish and a tale of woe: his family torn apart by a vicious storm at sea with his wife, son, and servant swept one way and himself, another son, and his servant swept another. He could not have predicted that today would see the reuniting of his family after so long apart. Shakespeare’s comedic script relies on the slapstick humour of doubling and mistaken identity as Antipholus (Bilal Hafda) and Dromio (Mansoor Noor) of Syracus crash into the lives of Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. Bell’s adaptation exaggerates these overlapping lives and confusing character mix-ups by shrinking the cast to five actors who juggle the rapid costume changes and mixed messages with great humour and enthusiasm.
While using passages from the original text, Take Two is nearly entirely rewritten in contemporary language with the technology and pop culture references relevant to younger audiences today. Director Stefo Nantsou speaks about the multiculturalism of Western Sydney appealing to his sense of self as a Macedonian Australian which accounts for this production’s repeated nods to Western Sydney culture specifically, including street fashions and Lebanese lad mannerisms. The integration of contemporary contexts, like a Bunning’s salesperson or a Westmead cover story, can sometimes interrupt the well-known narrative but, here, the sense of inclusion was more subtle and delivered with a comfortable community spirit.
The cast played with a seemingly endless reserve of energy while running on and off stage. Gabriel Fancourt, who played a variety of characters, was a stand-out as a quick-witted courtesan, while Lindy Sardelic demonstrated a real comedic range as the pitiable father Egeon and the jealous wife Adriana. Mansoor Noor captured the attention of the young audience as the good-humoured mate Dromio of Syracus and his nerdier brother Dromio of Ephesus. Libby Asciak and Bilal Hafda played to a slightly straighter comedic style even when representing two characters on stage at the same time. As a full cast, the actors provided a vibrant array of characters that filled out the Grecian city with lively laughter and erratic movement.
The set design from Imogen Ross incorporated fairy lights and reflective streamers for a well-balanced staging which provided the necessary visuals without distracting from the convoluted plot. Lighting design by Matt Cox similarly filled the large stage space well with little detailed touches like an over-the-top impromptu concert and liberal use of a taser.
So much of the heavy connotations surrounding Shakespeare and the opaque language of his plays can feel alienating for new, younger audiences and stand in the way of the great humour of his comedies. This clever adaptation of a classical farce finds all the funny and friendly bits and adds the contemporary references to keep the play as relevant as it would have been.
Take Two: A Comedy of Errors is running at Riverside from September 11th – 14th