Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Shakespeare’s farce provides the backdrop for some young Honolulu based talent to explore the world of commedia dell’arte.
Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays and probably one of his most farcical, giving those performing it plenty of scope to create humour and chaos through puns, wordplay, slapstick and mistaken identity. It tells the story of twin brothers (the Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus) whose servants also happen to be twins (the Dromios of similar abode). Farce hasn’t changed a lot in 500 years and so it’s no surprise that when each encounter friends and families of one another, there follows a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities leading to wrongful fisticuffs, a near-seduction, an arrest, and accusations of infidelity, theft, madness and demonic possession.
Bringing a cast and crew of over thirty students eight thousand miles across several oceans from their Honolulu base doubtless presented director and Iolani theatre teacher Rob Duval with enough material to produce a real life version to match the shenanigans revealed on a stage barely large enough to accommodate the multiplicity of characters and comings and goings. And whilst the cast were at times in danger of breaking golden stage rule numero uno (don’t trip over the scenery or your fellow actors) we just about got through the plot with everything and everyone intact.
Having identical twins in Jackie and Claire Mosteller play the Dromio’s was an inspired move that held the show together. The Mostellers’ diction, movement and overall grasp of the challenging concept of playing theatre commedia dell’arte was exemplary. Adding to the quality evident in these two young actors was the inventive backing of percussion and a flute score composed and delivered by three very capable musicians.
A pity then that most of their leading compatriots seemed hell bent on turning an already edited show into a race for the denouement. Commedia dell’arte does not always need to be played at ninety miles an hour – varying the pace gives the audience the occasional breather, whilst playing at full speed all the time has a tendency to lead to loss of diction. Perhaps a bit more use of the red pen to edit the script would have allowed those performing the story a little more time to get rather less across – a narrator, for example, could have been introduced to help steer the audience through the plot. And better use could also have been made of spotlighting to break up the stage more effectively. Instead, we ended up with several soliloquies being delivered in the gloom.
But the Mostellers received strong support both from those playing a series of minor roles and from those non-speaking players charged with creating the stage ambience. The Doctor (Calvin Chan) delivered a particularly enjoyable vignette and the seductress was suitably beguiling. And the costumes fitted the piece and set and props were simple and very inventive.
It’s a long way to come to put on a show but I guess that’s the power of the Edinburgh Fringe – it draws and welcomes without discrimination. If you’ve a spare hour this weekend you could do a lot worse than support this troupe, they finish August 10th.