I have been spoilt when it comes to productions of The Comedy of Errors well, in truth, one production, Propeller's at the Hampstead Theatre. It was so good I'll be very surprised if it doesn't make my top ten theatre list for 2011.
The only problem is that every subsequent production of The Comedy of Errors (and Richard III for exactly the same reason) that comes along will always be judged against it.
Dominic Cooke's production of Comedy at the National Theatre is by all accounts very good. Superbly acted, fantastic set (when it wasn't breaking down) genius little musical interludes but it just wasn't as funny and eye-poppingly stand out as the Propeller version. I laughed but at Hampstead I laughed until it hurt and that has never happened with a Shakespeare comedy before.
Listening to a podcast of Cooke talking about Comedy of Errors he says he wanted to show that the play isn't just an opportunity for slapstick comedy, that it has its serious side exploring themes of alienation, prejudice and the harsh realities of commerce. It is all well and good but I just can't get out of my head the image of one of the Propeller actors walking across the stage naked, with a lit sparkler clenched between his buttocks.
In the podcast Cooke mentions that he's seen four other Comedy of Errors this year and I'd be surprised if Propeller's wasn't one of them in which case he'll have no doubt, and understandably, wanted to do something very different.
That isn't to say Cooke has ignored slapstick, there is a great Benny Hill-esque chase, for example, which is triggered by an ambulance driving on stage - this is the National after all. But in addition Cooke's production, by his design, does have a heightened sense of alienation and the irrationality of behaviour that that feeling can provoke.
There wasn't a weak performance among the ensemble although I do wish Claudie Blakely (Adriana) wouldn't shake her head quite as much, it's a tick that seems to carry through all her performances. However, one further honourable mention should go to Michelle Terry who I didn't recognise for the first 30 minutes - a sign of a great actress in my book.
I gave the Propeller Comedy of Errors five stars and 87%, I'm going to give this version four stars and 79%.
Claudie Blakley who plays Adriana was in Bright Star with Mr W and Lucian Msamati (Dromio of Syracuse) lists Richard II as his most recent TV work which I'm hazarding a guess is the BBC version to be broadcast next year in which Mr W plays the lead.
Comedy of Errors picture: Johan Persson