What do you get if you take one of Shakespeare’s looniest comedies, throw in a few of the finest Broadway numbers ever written, and smear on a thick layer of high camp? Why, this show, of course, inspired by ‘The Comedy of Errors’, and penned by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart back in 1938 as the first musical to be based on a Shakespeare play.
The show has usually fared better Stateside than on this side of the pond – a 1963 West End production (starring, trivia fans, none other than Bob Monkhouse) received a frosty reception, though Judi Dench turned things around by directing an acclaimed revival at the Open Air Theatre in 1991. So director Ben De Wynter has taken a brave step in bringing this new production to the diminutive Union: not least because, with an all-singing, all-dancing cast of 18, there’s always the risk that an overly enthusiastic high-kick will end up breaking the nose of an audience member in the front row.
But no noses were broken at the performance I saw – and in fact, choreographer Mark Smith deserves credit for marshalling several excellent full-cast numbers around the tiny stage. The mostly young cast give strong vocal performances, too, especially in the second half, and the production has great fun with the Ancient Greek setting – I’ve rarely seen a set of tinier togas. There’s a slightly uncomfortable disjuncture between the actors’ British-speaking voices, and their Americanised vocals – but otherwise, it’s all great fun.
By Laura Barnett