With alumni such as Rory Kinnear, Rosamund Pike and Julian Ovenden, the Oxford University Dramatic Society seems as good a place as any to spot potential stars for the future and obliging with their now customary summer tour, I only had to nip up the road to the Southwark Playhouse to go and see them in their short run of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. As he alludes in his programme note, companies often try to take a different route into such familiar work and director Christopher Adams has relocated this play to the modern day ex-pat community living in the Spanish city of Málaga. Wisely, it’s a choice that the production wears lightly and thus is quite effective, if a little reminiscent of Propeller’s own recent reimagining.
The debauched world of the Costa del Sol serves as a splendid stand-in for Ephesus – a surfeit of sex, sun and sangria seduces the newly-arrived and much-wearied Antipholus of Syracuse into temporarily abandoning the search for his long-lost brother, and the easy hedonism of his city allows Antipholus of Ephesus to pursue a self-destructive path as he struggles to deal with a loss he doesn’t understand. As the latter, Artemas Froushan delivers excellently the cocksure swagger of a man used to having his way completely and so raging violently once things start to go awry. David Shields as his more serious brother revels in the madcap capers but could perhaps have layered in a little more of the strait-laced characteristics instead of abandoning them completely, and their reunion lacked the emotional heft it ought to punch with.
Sam Plumb and Harley Viveash both made excellent Dromios though, fizzing balls of physicality and comedy as they bear much of the brunt of the repeated identity mix-ups that make up the play. I enjoyed Hannah Gliksten as a striking if shockingly subservient Adriana and Constance Greenfield’s luminous Luciana, and Natasha Heliotis as a slightly subversive Mother Abbess gave probably the best spoken performance of the show.
Some choices didn’t work quite as well for me though. The repeated appearances of a mime-like figure were baffling, the cartoon-style violence lacked the sharpness to really work and seemed to fly in the face of a production seeking to excavate the darker side of the material and as a more general point and something that will surely come with experience for those that continue with their acting, there was an awful lot of excessive gesturing and hand movements during the longer speeches – of all writers, Shakespeare needs less additional explication and at times it felt that the company needed to remember and trust that the language itself will do the job.
But I did enjoy myself – a good sense of humour and musicality kept a liveliness to an already pacey adaptation (trimmed to just over 2 hours) and one was certainly left with a smile on one’s face. As for the stars of tomorrow, I shall watch with intrigued pleasure to see if any of these names do indeed appear as headliners up the road at the National.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 17th August