A kung-fu kick to enthral

2012-01-27 13:25

Parody was the word bandied about by an elderly trio seated behind us during the interval of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors at Maynardville, Wynberg in Cape Town.

I presumed they were purists, for director Matthew Wild’s interpretation of one of the bard’s earliest plays would certainly upset the traditionalist’s sensibilities.

There could be an argument for this production being a parody, but I would not go so far as to say Wild’s Chinatown 1970s kung-fu setting was ridiculing the world’s most revered playwright. Quite the opposite, I think Shakespeare may have been delighted.

Wild’s choices did serve to confound as much as to please, and the flow of action on what appeared to be a rather stilted mid-week performance didn’t help to smooth the questions of setting and style his directorial decisions had raised.

There were questions that niggled before the actors had even stepped on stage, and remained unanswered. Such as: what does the oriental script on the admittedly intriguing set actually say? Why does the dj – overlooking the stage playing 80s pop hits such as Murray Head’s One Night in Bangkok – not retire once the play starts?

However, embracing the fact that Shakespeare can be placed in settings more contemporary than the world of Elizabethan England; relaxing the overly-critical eye; and giving the performers a little leeway in light of the fact that the audience were doing little more than congratulating themselves on surviving the third day of a heat wave, I’d have to say the play was a hoot.

Despite unsatisfied curiosity about the meaning of the oriental lettering, Angela Nemov’s set served its ends brilliantly and she let loose when it came to outfitting the cast in retro 1970s gear replete with silk shorts, high cut denims and platform shoes. From a 2012 perspective, this in itself leans to comedy, making the actors’ task of raising a laugh that much easier, although providing them with a hurdle when the dialogue took a more serious turn.

Although they had the obstacle of a heat-exhausted audience that weren’t providing much energy for them to feed off, the cast put their heart into it and pulled off a performance that was above “very good” but not quite “stellar”.

Standouts were, as expected, James Cairns and Rob van Vuuren as the servant twins Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse, the pair providing most of the comedy among the errors with spot-on timing. Nicholas Pauling and Andrew Laubscher as Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus did a superb job, with Laubscher’s raging frustration at being the butt of the increasing litany of misunderstandings particularly entertaining.

If you can leave your preconceptions in the park and simply relish in the ridiculous, this is yet another Maynardville production that does Shakespeare proud.

Given his slapstick sense of humour, I’m sure he’s laughing in his grave.

» Comedy of Errors runs at Maynardville’s Open-Air Theatre until February 18. Book at Computicket.

– West Cape News

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