Something is going on at Shakespeare North in Prescot. Not content with winning the Theatre Building of the Year award from The Stage newspaper, they are in danger of winning the ‘theatre I most like to go to because I know I’m going to have a great time’ award, from me at least.
The Comedy of Errors (More or Less) is the second Shakespeare play I have seen there, and the second one I’ve come out of feeling thoroughly better about myself and the human race than I did when I went in. It’s not just that they’re developing a clever, irreverent, local and hilarious approach to the bard that takes wonderful liberties with the text and pulls them off, it’s also the architecture.
When you’re in a theatre with a lot of other people all having a good time, that’s one thing. But when you’re in the round and can clearly see everyone else having a good time too, that’s something else. It’s community and I find it life-enhancing.
The Comedy of Errors, like Sir Cyril Burt’s fake research that landed us with the eleven-plus, is based on a story of two pairs of identical twins both separated at birth and reared apart. It becomes more complicated as both pairs have the same names. Normally played by actors of similar features, the theatre has been amazingly fortunate in finding two pairs of twins, David and Peter Kirkbride who play the Antipholus boys, and Oliver and Zach Mawdsley who play the Antipholes’ servants, the Dromios.
The fun really starts when Antipholus of Prescot (see what they did there?) goes to play his one-man show in Scarborough and is mistaken for her ne’er do well husband by Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Scarborough (of course), played by Alyce Liburd, who drags him off to dinner. It just gets more complicated from there. Antipholus of Prescot falls in love with Adriana’s sister, Luciana (Ida Regan), who can’t help but nearly fall in love with him until she remembers he is her sister’s husband and gives him what for.
Meanwhile, there is a subplot around a gold medallion bought from a local villainess, Big Sandra, played by Claire Eden, and a Scarborough talent show presided over by local bigwig Duke Silenus, Andy Cryer. The whole thing is further complicated by the arrival of a reporter from Look North, played by Valerie Antwi, who is the feed for one of the funniest ripostes I have ever heard in a theatre. No spoilers here.
Everybody sings, everybody dances, everybody is excellent. The plays has been moved from 17th century Ephesus to 1980s Yorkshire, so the music is familiar and song sheets are provided. The play has been cleverly adapted by Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane, and directed with a light but certain touch by Paul Robinson. The design – wait till you see the ice cream cone – I said no spoilers, oops sorry, is by Jess Curtis. It’s a complete joy, and the wine in the bar is decent and only £7 for a large glass. What’s not to like?
The point is this: what kind of art do we need right now? I recently reviewed Beginning at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. It had very good performances – no interval and two hours long, my god – and was well crafted and everything, but I left the theatre thinking, ‘ok, good work, and I’m glad I’m not 40 and single and wanting a child’. But really, we are living in the most difficult economic times most of us have ever known, our politics are completely screwed, and everyone I know feels helpless. What we need right now is to be leaving theatres feeling good about ourselves, that we’re not alone, and with hope for us all. The Comedy of Errors did that for me, all of the 50-mile drive home.
Main image by Patch Dolan
The Comedy of Errors (more or less) is playing at Shakespeare North Playhouse, Prescot, until March 25, 2023. For more details on show times and ticket prices,click here.