I cannot think of a better way to bring in the Year of the Dragon, than with Shakespeare’s farcical quick-witted comedy at Maynardville Open Air Theatre. At the opening of their new show, The Comedy of Errors, last Saturday, we were welcomed by rows of scarlet Chinese lanterns that lit up the path, vibrant paper dragons, and an array of other colourful Chinese New Year decorations, which fitted in perfectly with their 1970’s Kung Fu Cinema styled production. They had everything from panda’s with swagger (Oscar Sanders), multi-coloured merchants with serious ninja skills, eccentric schoolmasters (Gabriel Marchand), to a giddy, bubble-blowing harajuku girl (Jenny Stead). What more could one ask for? Well, what about a tale of two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth by a tragic shipwreck, whom unwittingly find themselves in the same city years later? Oh, yes.

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, unleashes a series of uproarious misunderstandings, farcical contortions and several cases of mistaken identities, with absolute hilarious consequences! In order for director Matthew Wild to create a modern-day “Ephesus” setting in which the foreign characters can sense an atmosphere of danger, mystery and enchantment – a mercantile city, where profit and trade are high on the residents’ daily agenda, he had consider many different factors. Drawing inspiration from films such as Enter the Dragon, it was decided upon a type of Never Never Land “Chinatown” setting, composed of irrelevant Asian clichés, signs and symbols, that would create the perfect atmosphere in which the tale could unfold. The genre of the classic 1970’s Hong Kong martial arts films, according to Wild, in which the tone may very rapidly switch from romance, to slapstick, to genuine danger, with this style of dramatic language and fight sequences, may be “the source of elegant, balletic comedy” and “a treasure-trove of vividly imagined, exotic locales”.

Despite being one of the earliest (and shortest) of Shakespeare’s plays, it has retained its popularity with audiences, having been frequently adapted to suit our ever-changing modern society. A great deal of the play’s humour revolves around the beating of servants, a potentially bleak source of amusement for modern-day audiences. Many directors have had to tackle the repeated comic beatings of the bondsmen and other servants in this play, and one way of doing so was by looking back to commedia dell’arte and slapstick-type physical comedy such as that of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. That being said, the physical interaction between the Antipholus twins and their bondsmen, Dromio, were lighthearted and enjoyably comical.

The play opens with Egeon(played by Stephen Jennings), father of the Antipholus twins, and his whopper of a monologue. Even the sharpest-eared audience members would be likely to miss the vital moment of clarification about the heartbreaking separation of the young twins & their reason for them ending up with identical names, but not this audience. Oh, no. Thanks to a clever director, the aid of skilfully handled visual stimuli were used to illustrate exactly what transpired that fateful day and made it so much easier for us, the audience, to follow the story from there on in. And so the comedy of errors ensues. The locals constantly confuse the visiting twins for the native twins – even Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife Adriana and her sister Luciana are easily fooled. All the confusion results in Antipholus of Ephesus (the native twin) being arrested for debt and declared mad, while Atipholus of Syracuse (the visiting twin) takes refuge from his brother’s enraged wife in a nunnery – where the abbess turns out to be Egeon’s long lost wife and the twins’ mother.

There were some superb performances by Nicholas Pauling, who played the very confused visiting Antipholus of Syracuse, along with the well-known and loved comedian Rob van Vuuren, who played his equally bewildered servant Dromio. The native Antipholus, Andrew Laubscher and his loyal bondsman, James Cairns. The leading ladies were just as captivating, especially Sonia Esgueira, who played the part of Adriana, Antipholus’ wife, and dared the stage with 6 inch heels! The poor visiting Dromio found himself unknowingly married to a lusty lady, which he himself described as a “mountain of flesh” (hysterically played by the talented Chi Mhende). With the aid of cleverly designed twin outfits with only subtle colour differences, so we could tell the two pairs of twins apart, this performance was well thought out, colourful in every sense of the word and roll-on-the-floor-laughing funny. Every detail was carefully considered, even down to the little female DJ in the roof that just gave it that cherry-on-top *KAPOW* effect.

Maynardville truly outdid themselves once again. Four and a half stamps of approval — well worth a night out at the theatre! There are still shows available until the 18th of February. Perfect for a Valentine’s cuddle under the stars.

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