“Keep your fingers under control”
As a Rodgers and Hart musical from the late 1930s, The Boys from Syracuse is naturally full of songs you didn’t know you knew – ‘Sing for Your Supper’, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, ‘Falling in Love with Love’ – but it is also a story that you may very well be familiar with. George Abbott’s book relocates the action to Ancient Greece and refocuses it firmly onto the romantic entanglements therein but the tale is Shakespeare’s story of identical Antipholi and Dromios let loose in Ephesus – it’s a rom-Comedy of Errors, with tunes.
Ben De Wynter’s production plays to the typical strengths of the Union Theatre – pulling together a sizeable ensemble full of youthful freshness, stripping back musical arrangements to their innate simplicity and creating choreography that pushes the intimate boundaries of this fringe venue. And it mostly succeeds in these three as mistaken identities abound with the arrival of Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse into the town of Ephesus, where their long-lost twins are in residence, causing mayhem with friends and family alike.
Much of the comedy is played with a knowing wink, jazz hands aplenty and mugging galore. Matthew Cavendish and Alan McHale as the two Dromios are best here, their natural ebullience barely ground down by the constant misunderstandings and their various interactions with wife, to one of them at least, Luce, a twinkle-eyed scold given great life by Natalie Woods. Kaisa Hammarlund’s courtesan is the vivacious highlight though, her ‘Oh, Diogenes’ sparkles with life and feels like a direct line to old-school Hollywood glamour and glitz.
Elsewhere though, the magic only really comes alive in the ensemble numbers. The sweet-voiced romantic leads lack enough chemistry to make their duets and interactions really fly and too often, we’re left craving the dazzling effect of a cast of 18 filling the stage with song and dance. Mark Smith’s choreography doesn’t always push as hard as it could either – the extended ballet sequence that closes Act 1 drags where it should delight and the delicious rendition of Sing for Your Supper comes with an interlude that could do more to impress (or leave it to the singers and their more than capable moves). But The Boys from Syracuse is undoubtedly a frothy delight, particularly in its second act, and crucially has both great charm and great tunes which take it a long way.