Review: The Comedy Of Errors (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 17 – Sep 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse, Julia Billington, Giema Contini, Skyler Ellis, Felix Jozeps, Alex King, Leilani Loau, Ella Prince, Lauren Richardson, Maitland Schnaars
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors, two sets of twins cause mayhem in the Greek city of Ephesus, through a series of events involving mixed identities and wild premises. It may be a relic of a play, but centuries on, it still provides an opportunity for theatre makers to present something frolicsome and mirthful, for audiences of any description. In the right hands, it may even demonstrate the changes that have occurred in our cultures over this half a millennium, for it is through adaptations and interpretations, that we may observe our evolution, reflected in the artistic choices being made today.

On this occasion, director Janine Watson applies a correspondingly frivolous 1970s disco aesthetic to the staging, but it is the queering of characters and relationships in the story, that forms a constant reminder, that we are indeed living in the twenty-first century. There is an unmistakeable vigour to Watson’s work, with a love for the immediacy of the live format, that truly shines. 

The cast is given plentiful space to wreak havoc, and their mischievousness is resolutely centre stage. Skyler Ellis and Felix Jozeps are the twins named Antipholus, both performers energetic, passionate and effortlessly charismatic. The two servants named Dromio, also twins, are played by Julia Billington and Ella Prince, both inventive and captivating, who turn their parts resoundingly non-binary, for a show memorable for its subtext of gender dismantlement. Giema Contini and Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse are flamboyant siblings Adriana and Luciano, eliciting some of the biggest laughs with a wonderful camp approach to their humour.

Hugh O’Connor’s set and costume designs are pop infused, colourful manifestations of a lurid fantasy world, in which common sense takes a back seat. Along with lights by Kelsey Lee, this production of The Comedy Of Errors is relentlessly vibrant, in a way that proves visually satisfying. Music and sound by Pru Montin too are not particularly subtle, prominently featuring hits from the disco era that remain gloriously euphoric.

Beneath all the rambunctious activity, lies a central guiding principle of authenticity. The production’s theme is declared with great pride in neon, “Find Yourself”, which must certainly refer to the discovery of one’s purest identity. Even if Shakespeare represents the diametric opposition to one’s own values, it can never be discounted that it is sometimes the very notion of an antithesis, that helps one uncover the truth.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au