The RSC’s Comedy of Errors is no classic but it’s still an enjoyable slapstick romp

Steve Dinneen
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Camden Roundhouse | By Steve Dinneen

THE Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of The Comedy of Errors at Camden’s Roundhouse is nothing if not ambitious.

The seedy markets of Shakespeare’s Ephesus become a rundown dockland reminiscent of the Baltimore Docks from the second season of The Wire. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse (two sets of twins, separated at birth from their respective Ephesus-based siblings) arrive in a crate as illegal immigrants. Prostitutes and hawkers selling knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags roam the docks, always on the lookout for the sinister armed security forces.

Merchants become modern-day wide-boys, clad in leisurewear, camel-skin jackets and shiny polyester suits. The king is a Glaswegian mobster who rules the underworld with an iron fist: an opening scene sees his security goons half drowning a hapless Egeon in an aquarium.

The Comedy of Errors is hardly a subtle play but director Amir Nizar Zuabi ramps up the camp and slapstick to an almost absurd degree. Crates, actors and entire houses are delivered to the stage on a giant cargo winch; dock workers and police become marching bands playing live music; characters are flown overhead, while others are plunged into the giant aquariums at the edge of the stage.

At times the production skates a little close to pantomime and the high-camp of the Dromio twins can get a bit grating, especially a scene in which Nell (who never appears on stage in the original text), attempts to squire one of them with a marrow.

But there is certainly never a dull moment, with the production bulldozing through the play at breakneck speed. It’s not a classic but you won’t forget it in a hurry either.

The Comedy of Errors is part of a Shipwrecked trilogy by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Roundhouse, alongside The Tempest and Twelfth Night.