Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Comedy of Errors at Theatre at the Mill

Last night was the Opening Night of Theatre at the Mill's Comedy of Errors: the Musical.

After an absolute disaster of a day where our car broke down, the fridge blew up and our heating wouldn't work properly, I needed cheering up.  Comedy of Errors had a lot to live up to!

Billed as a musical theatre version of Shakespeare set in 1920's Belfast, the production is a difficult sell.  The cast were clearly nervous for the opening number but settled quickly into their parts.  Not being a play I have read and not knowing what to expect I found the beginning confusing.  I couldn't quite understand what was going on and who each character was meant to be. However it didn't take long to realise that the who's, what's and when's were mostly irrelevant.  This musical adaptation was first and foremost meant to be fun.

And fun it was.  Richard Clements and Paul Boyd are excellent as the brothers separated at birth, their relationships with their servants a high point. Paul Boyd's Belfast Anthony is perhaps the most passionate of the brothers, continuously kicking his servant and getting a fair few kisses from his mistress.  Richard's Dublin Anthony is by contrast a less violent man, pleasantly surprised by the lovely Belfast people who like to give him money and pearls.  The two Drews are strongly played by Drew Dillon and David Marken, talented young actors who ensure that the confusion and slapstick comedy continue throughout.  The curly clown wigs chosen for the Drew characters however, did remind me of Art Garfunkel or Gene Wilder.  Not a good look.

Sara Lyle's wronged wife Adrianna and her single sister Lucy played by Orla Gormley are engaging in their roles.  Reflecting the brothers' conflicting characters, the sisters are polar opposites to one another.  Adrianna seems to enjoy a bit of passionate S&M, whereas Lucy's demure character is much more restrained, but played with a Gormley twinkle in the eye. Chris Robinson and Orla Mullan had perhaps the most frantic parts to play, portraying with style various roles such as the jeweller, a policeman, the father, the mother, an exorcist, a nun, a businesswoman, a mistress and the cook.

As always, I found the music overpowered the vocals making it difficult to hear the words of the songs.  In this instance it may not have been so much an issue of volume, but more to do with balance and clarity through the sound system.  It should be said however, that I often have an issue with the music simply being too loud in theatre productions.  The songs are fun and catchy and are well handled by this cast.

The story was set aside to use comical interludes such as a Stomp-like door-knocking musical episode, a stylised slow motion fight scene, musicians calling out hellos to the characters, an off-stage run though the audience and a pun-tastic comic monologue from Drew Dillon which accented his excellent comic timing.  These set pieces were interesting individual moments but were not there to assist the development of the story but more to allow time for quick changes.  I thought these mostly worked well but they reminded me of the comic interludes used in panto to allow for the big scene change to happen behind the curtain.

I felt that the play tried too hard to fit in too many styles and this was detrimental to it's focus. Panto meets Shakespeare meets musical theatre meets slapstick meets farce all set in 1920's Belfast meant that the play felt confused in it's direction. The continuous large gestures and unnecessary movements of the characters undermined the storytelling and merely created one dimensional stock characters which force this production more into the world of pantomime than musical theatre.

Despite this, Comedy of Errors: The Musical is a fast paced and frenetic show, with is a very hard working cast whose hi-jinks and even higher kicks had my eyes watering.  Full of slapstick fun and witty naughtiness, this shows runs until 2nd March. You can BOOK HERE.                        

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