I thought the idea of this season’s Shakespeare in the Park, The Comedy of Errors, being inspired by 1970s kung fu films was merely a whimsical one, but director Matthew Wild confirms the choice was a carefully considered one: “Here is a genre in which the tone may switch very rapidly from slapstick to genuine danger to romance… a world in which Shakespeare’s gender politics make sense and, most crucially, a cultural reference which resonates strongly with a wide cross-section of South Africans.”
And it works brilliantly. Twins are hardly rare in Shakespeare’s comedies, but never before have I seen a pair sporting bright yellow tracksuits and long blonde wigs with matching sweatbands. There were some elements of traditional Chinese dress, a fabulous take on a Buddhist nun’s ensemble, tinsel wigs, glitter, glo-sticks, and some glorious platform boots. There were even some roller skates planned but, after a broken wrist in the final dress rehearsal, these were deemed a little risky.
Like the costumes, the set shouted with colour, in marvellous contrast to the surrounding greenery of trees and bamboos, and the darkening night sky overhead. In one window of the set, a DJ (Nieke Lombard) bopped to her own beats throughout the show – ‘a digital reinvention of Noh and Kabuki theatre’ according to the programme.
Character actor specialists Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns were in their element as the twin servants, (both named Dromio) and proved perfect foils for their twin masters (both named Antipholus) who were ably and fluently played by Nicholas Pauling and Andrew Laubscher. Every member of the cast fully embraced their role, but special mention must go to Sonia Esgueira who, as Adriana, stormed around the stage proclaiming her love and her frustrations with the manner and voice of a young Frances de la Tour. Jenny Steadman too made the character of the Courtesan her own, with a wannabe Chinese accent and a naïve shallowness perfectly pitched to keep her likeable.
During the interval, under God’s perfect stars and red glowing Chinese lanterns, free wine tasting was on offer from Diemersfontein. Hot coffee, cold ice cream and chips and sweets were proffered from stalls along the path – a refreshingly different break. “Small cheer and great welcome [truly]makes a merry feast”! And those who had brought blankets along – Maynardville can be nippy – had little need of them.
This is a great outing for not just the individual theatre lover, but for kids and adults alike. And although Shakespearian speech can require large amounts of concentration to follow, the story is a very simple one – just read the synopsis beforehand, then sit back and enjoy a show bursting with energy, top notch acting and a lot of laughs.
Daisy Ions and Maike Gevers
Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors runs from January 10 till February 18 at the Maynardville Ampitheatre. Traditionally, theatre-goers take a picnic to eat in the park beforehand.