Brighton Year-Round 2022
Directed and Produced by Joanna Rosenfeld, Assisted by Logan Kade, Supported by and Costumes provided by Gladrags Community Costume Resource. Set pieces provided by IC Theatre Brighton and Duncan Henderson
Music arranged by Kirsty Geddes and Joanna Rosenfeld and performed by the cast.
Costume Design by Niamh Atwood and Alissandra Henderson
Final performance of OFS in 2022, September 4th.
The boys from Syracuse are back in town. And they’re hungry. Following their Julius Caesar last week (vividly reviewed by Strat Mastoris on FringeReview) in their new home of St Nicholas Rest in Dyke Road, The One Fell Swoop Project tackles that brilliant early farce Shakespeare modelled from Plautus and Terence. The Comedy of Errors. So how many unforced errors will OFS thrust like spontaneous greatness upon us? Well, none.
Scripts in hand, the actors who work at the Globe, hail from the RSC and Brighton, have from Thursday night to Saturday to scan lines from a Shakespeare they’ve not been told about, do one rehearsal, then… unlocked. It’s a bit like Read Not Dead at the Globe: but edgier. Here fresh invention’s not yet dry, sticks like greasepaint; and Shakespeare’s still scribbling the last act in the wings.
Today’s director Joanna Rosenfeld developed with Conor Baum – who originated OFS in lockdown zoom – the project of performing all Shakespeare’s plays over several seasons. Here’s Season 3 and No. 14, and there’s well maybe another 26 to go if you include the late Double Falsehood (the ‘recovered’ Cardenio) and Edward III which Shakespeare wrote early on with Kyd.
The Comedy of Errors proves ideal for OFS’ aesthetic. An early work from 1594, it’s Shakespeare’s first mature comedy, but technically a brilliant riff off classical models: madcap farce, Feydeau 300 years early. The company bring such natural exuberance, mutual joy and trust, that a play shorter on poetry, sharper on wit and frantic with plot gloves into just a day’s rehearsal with actors bringing crazed details of the rehearsal room that never get edited out.
The result is one of the finest OFS productions, with virtually no props but full Elizabethan costume curated by Niamh Atwood and Alissandra Henderson from supporters Gladrags. The identical greens of the Dromios, the greyish blue of the Antipholus duo (because of course they’d wear the same garb countries apart, as productions always suggest) and bright gold-yellows of merchants and reds of rulers make this a visual feast on the undulating green of the churchyard with a monument as central focus, a few canes showing lines of access, and we’re away. Last week Julius Caesar was set up near where The Chamberlain’s Men played in May. Next week it’ll be different.
We’re lulled to a more vernal possibility by the ensemble singing of ‘Greensleeves’ – Kirsty Geddes and Rosenfeld devised the music – perfectly in period with the costumes, grounding the production in the 1590s, even Jenny Rowe’s accordion. Till it doesn’t. First we have Lexi Pickett singing plangently: ‘She moved through the fair’ then another interval ensemble bash at the monument, ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies’ which many of us sang at school. Neither have anything to do with the play, thematically even, and of course it’s glorious, the last going with a wondrous snap and snatch: first-rate scratch ensemble-singing with timing to match.
It’s so probable that identical twin boys (both called Antipholus) and identical working-class twins (yclept Dromio) – adopted to be servants to the twins – get separated as babies in a sea-storm. So one A&D set fetches up in Syracuse with Egeon, father of two sons named Antipholus; the other pair get put off at Ephesus, with the Antipholus twins’ mother but separated from her, so she knows nothing of their whereabouts.
Then doing Egeon’s bidding, and after seven years’ travel, the Syracuse pair arrive in Ephesus incognito, as does the father who’s recognised as from hostile Syracuse: unless he finds ransom, will be beheaded. Except the Syracuse boys know nothing of this, let alone the Ephesus set.
That’s where we start, Sharon Drain’s bespectacled, high-fallutin’ but not unsympathetic Duke Solinus (Drain plays Pinch, fantastical mountebank doctor too wry with saturnine doxologies) hears out the inordinate story Deborah Kearne’s tear-snorting Egeon hogs the twilight with; it seems twilight by the time she’s finished. This is high farce. Drain and Jules Craig’s Jailer are visibly affected, indeed Craig makes a consummate point of slapping her leg and extending it in the air in this and her role as Second Merchant: it’s outrageous but the trio are so attuned it’s only Shakespeare upstaged, just a bit. The most uproarious opening to the start of this play – often a bit ponderous – I’ve seen.
OFS are known for clarity. Here they surpass themselves. Rarely has this work seemed so coherent, its fiendish slapstick and twists as each set of twins mistake each other and everyone else mistakes the Syracuse pair from the Ephesus ones; of course no-one understands as no two identical twins turn up together, till the end.
Think I’m going to bore you with the plot?
Lexi Pickett’s Antipholus of Syracuse washes up with Jenny Rowe’s Dromio of Syracuse who disguise their origins and immediately – as Dromio’s sent on errands – the twins cross over; and the Syracuse pair get all the hospitality due to their brethren. The audience know what’s about to happen, and naturally anticipating farce is part of its enjoyment.
Pickett’s wry and clear-voiced, excellent as entitled-if-not-unsympathetic merchant with Rowe’s complaining servant a fantastical foil. Rowe’s OFS debut is exceptional, her wails of complaint, and set-piece in describing the fiancée she’s foisted on when she and her master are dragged home by Antipholus’ wife: a ‘spherical’ Nan whose parts are ranged as countries as Rowe roves through a gallimaufry of accents. Quite the most brilliant Dromio display I’ve seen.
Katey Ann Fraser’s Dromio of Ephesus counterpoints Rowe in a baffle of pate-beating and complaint, particularly apt at denying and affirming parts of the story to assembled citizens at the end. There’s chemistry between her and Rowe, her own Dromio roll-eyed, exquisitely out of the plot’s depth.
Seerché Deveraux’s home-turf Antipholus is soberer, assured, less wild to escape, still less cheered by wife Adriana, taking the wrong Antipholus to bed. Deveraux’s Antipholus and Fraser’s Dromio plus merchants are locked out by Rowe’s Dromio who’s acting on orders (Ben Baeza’s superb Adriana wants a ‘fairies away’ moment alone with husband, as she thinks); thus Deveraux’s Antipholus seeks consolation in the arms of the glorious Courtesan of Richard Waring.
Another newcomer, his is a beautifully modulated performance, siren-voiced, alert to every corner of the audience, edging to but never allowing farce, as a serious woman who doesn’t wear favours lightly. In yellowed gold, Waring’s professional nobility sheathes wry sexual assurance. Delicious.
Baeza, famed for a brio that lights up his red and yellow, his importuning and slithering over the wrong Antipholus is a highlight (Pickett and Baeza uproarious here), his outrage and wounded feeling both inspire piteous laughter and pitiless mirth. Baeza’s full galleon of an Adriana is counterpointed by unwed, doormat-desirous sister Luciana – Joe Appleby’s dark-clad involuntary falling-for-husband (the right Antipholus for him, did he but know it) of Pickett, who having tasted one sister decides the other’s even more desirable and doesn’t feel in the least married. Another bliss of unforced errors.
Rosanna Bini makes much of the First Merchant’s bonhomie and outrage, bringing a larger personality to this role than I’ve seen (goes with her bright-slashed-golden attire), neat in outrage as her Angelo is quiet.
Kirsty Geddes outside devising the music is a red-haired blaze of activity, an electron circuiting the play’s girdle in about 40 seconds – as Balthazar, an arresting Officer and truly frantic Messenger who crashes in and out of farce and rolls on the ground.
Ross Gurney-Randall famed for kings, dukes, and OFS grandees, here broadens to dea-ex-machina Abbess Aemilia. Long-lost-wife of Egeon, mother to one twin-set, overall wise woman. Gurney-Randall eases into stateliness as one born to quell petty dukes and finally rises to complete authority.
One of the most vivid, aesthetically cogent, certainly funniest OFS productions, this dazzles. Next week the last of the 2022 trio: Cymbeline or Hamlet? One day it’ll be Timon or King John. Bring it on, knock it down.
Antipholus of Syracuse Lexi Pickett
Dromio of Syracuse Jenny Rowe
Adriana Ben Baeza
Antipholus of Ephesus Seerché Deveraux
Dromio of Ephesus Katey Ann Fraser
Luciana Joe Appleby
Duke Solinus/Pinch Sharon Drain
Egeon Deborah Kearne
Abbess Aemilia Ross Gurney-Randall
Jailer/Second Merchant Jules Craig
Courtesan/Luca Richard Waring
First Merchant/Angelo Rosanna Bini
Balthazar/Officer/Messenger Kirsty Geddes