Writer_ Priya Shemar
The Shakespeare classic undergoes an unconventional twist, as Priya Shemar discovers the impressive acting at the Cockpit Theatre.
Imagine watching a Shakespeare performance without any intervals, costumes or scenery. In this unusual premise to the production, and for one night only, the Merely Players took to the stage of the Cockpit Theatre to perform The Comedy of Errors. Stripped down to focus on the essentials of acting and the wit of the Bard, surprises were frequent and funny.
Of all the Shakespearean comedies that could have been chosen for the opening of the Merely Shakespeare project, the most challenging was selected. With countless mistaken identities, two pairs of twins and endless puns, the original intentions of Shakespeare seemed somewhat ambitious for the actors in plain dress.
Yet the director’s use of minimalism was highly effective and comedic. The actors who played the ‘twins’ were of course completely different actors – the only resemblance between Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse was a grey beanie, which became a source of familiarity for the audience. The dissimilarities between lead actors Stephen Leask and Patrick Warner were ironically and lovingly drawn attention to in the hilarious conclusion of the play.
The skill of the actors was obvious from the opening scene. The omission of an interval and the goal of an under-two-hours performance meant that dialogue was spoken quickly but naturally. This could potentially put off those less familiar with Shakespeare, but in this case it enhanced the comedic elements as facial expressions and slapstick humour became key. Balance between physicality and dialogue remained, however, and the wit of Shakespeare’s wordplay was not lost, as the occasional use of props added an extra dimension of irony to the words of the original play. The removal of embellishments such as scenery and a well-lit stage encouraged the audience to focus on the acting alone.
On a few occasions members of the audience became directly involved in the performance, intensifying the humour and the level of intimacy between the audience and the actors. With a square stage and rows of audience on every side, the performance was more of a communal experience rather than a private viewing. The spontaneity of the actors ensured that they were easy to identify with. It was the remarkable acting, not the props or scenery, that made the audience feel as if they were in 16th century Italy.
In the first of a number of Shakespearean performances the Merely Players exceeded expectations. By poking a little fun at the absurdity of Shakespeare’s comedy, the audience were treated to a display of highly skilled actors whose capabilities shone through the understated production.
The Merely Players will be staging a different Shakespeare performance each month. On Sunday 16th March Romeo and Juliet will be performed at the Cockpit Theatre.