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By Hilary Simmons
November 11, 2013
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By Hilary Simmons
November 11, 2013
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This review is of the Melbourne run of this production in August 2013.

When we think Shakespeare, we think tragedies of misfortune, histories of sovereigns and comedies of error. The latter of which is obviously the most fun — especially when it's put on by Australia's leading classical theatre company, Bell Shakespeare.

The Comedy of Errors is a high-octane, crude-innuendo, neon-lit, slapstick-laden romp through mistaken identity, class structure, gender politics and table tennis etiquette. It takes Shakespeare's couplets and transports them to a sleazy, red-light port-town called Ephesus, which kind of looks like Sydney's Kings Cross if it got mongrelised with Melbourne's Chapel Street.

Now, the plot: a father is so proud of his two identical twin boys that he decides it will be a lark to adopt a second pair of identical twins for them to keep as man-servants. Bascially, Egeon has considerable wealth but not much common sense.

On the squally waters home, a shipwreck separates him and two of the boys from his wife and their matching twins. But that's not enough to ensure confusion and chaos for the rest of their lives. This is Shakespeare we're talking about — so he obligingly doubles up on the doubling up and gives each set of twins the same damn name.

Cue chaotic hilarity over the course of a single night many years later when both sets of twins mooch around Ephesus without once meeting each other. They confuse, enrage and arouse each other's lady-friends, and make multiple entrances and exits through many doors, eventually culminating in an outrageous chase scene. The busty, rumbustious Adriana (Elena Carapetis) is a stand-out in this scene with her gift for slow-motion hilarity and comical facial expressions.

Shakespeare's script hasn't been tampered with. It's remarkably clear and surprisingly relatable. Puns and one-liners fly fast and furious, and the flashing strobe lights in a club scene turn every cast member's face just the right shade of sickly green before they vomit splashily over the stage.

The effortless appeal of this new take on the Bard is due both to the timeless device of mistaken identity and director Imara Savage's terse nods to notions of immigration and 'errors' of judgement. Designer Pip Runciman has created a visual fiesta of colour with floral jackets, leopard-print bustiers, pink vinyl and bunny ears, and the debauched climax that will make you laugh until you are incontinent. Go — before your doppelgänger gets there first.

Image by Matt Nettheim.

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