When Jon Bausor has designed a set, it’s becoming increasingly hard for the actors on its inevitably inventive stage to take the starring role. But in Amir Nizar Zuabi’s raucously silly production of The Comedy Of Errors for the RSC, they have more than succeeded.
But what a set they must compete with. Housed in the RSC’s touring theatre structure – an almost identical replica to the company’s home theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon – at the Roundhouse, the audience is invited into a madcap, watery world. Warped wooden floorboards rip from the floor to fold up to the sky and the stage becomes a busy modern day port with a huge working crane ominously waiting to enable imaginative set changes best left as surprises.
This is the port of Ephesus where, as the title suggests, all manner of mischief ensues. Even for those who have no knowledge of the play, a synopsis is not necessary. There are errors. Lots of them. And all incur hilarious and ridiculously silly consequences.
Felix Hayes and Bruce Mackinnon as long lost twins who unwittingly find themselves in the same city with enjoyably unbelievable, confusing results, steal the show as a pair of village idiots, a little more than two sandwiches short of a picnic. With facial expressions worthy of a place in a silent film, their babbling, sweetly stupid portrayals of the lost brothers mirror each other scarily; at points it does become genuinely confusing as to who is who. Their 90s get-up of tracksuit, I Heart Ephesus/Syracuse t-shirts and dorky bobble hats doesn’t hurt the comedy either.
The world we are thrown into is one of dodgy salesman suits so shiny you can see your reflection in them, and big haired women with impossibly high heels. It’s all a bit tacky but deliciously so. Illegal peddlers sneak into the port in crates to sell fake Louis Vuitton bags and the truly frightening Duke Solinus’ surly assistant sashays around in patent platforms and a skin tight leather skirt.
At the centre of this The Only Way Is Essex world is Kirsty Bushell’s Adriana and her sister Luciana (Emily Taaffe) as an Ab Fab double act; Bushell a flamboyant, albeit slightly more stroppy, Edina, Taaffe a pastel clad prude Saffy with a slightly chipper, naive spirit.
For all the colourful, surreal and hysterical madness however, where Nizar Zuabi’s production is at its cleverest is in the rare scenes that show the crueller edge of the city they reside in; punches of sheer brutality peppering an otherwise slapstick delight.