The Comedy Of Errors
Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Until July 12
Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Various dates until October 18
Reviewed by Mark Brown
For the genteel 21st-century theatregoer it is all-too-easy to forget that, in Shakespeare’s day, the comedy was a raucous, often bawdy, sometimes downright vulgar affair. To his credit, Gordon Barr, artistic director of Glasgow’s annual Bard In The Botanics festival understands that the Elizabethans didn’t go to a comedy to simply smile wryly at the wit. Consequently, his outdoor staging of The Comedy Of Errors is as rough-and-ready a production as one is likely to see.
Ignorant of their identical twins, the gentlemen Antipholus and their manservants Dromio (hailing from Ephesus and Syracuse) lead us headlong into a series of hilarious errors. Adding grist to the comic mill, Barr leaves behind attic Greece and Italy, preferring, with a light-hearted nod to September’s referendum, a cartoonishly Scottish Ephesus, resplendent in garish plaid, a bunch of English Syracusians, and some over-the-top Americans for good measure.
What ensues is Shakespeare as high-energy, musical farce. Often played at breakneck speed, the production owes as much to the slapstick violence of Vic Reeves and the 1970s sauciness of Benny Hill as to anything of the Bard’s invention; indeed, no sooner does one think, “they might as well use the Benny Hill theme tune”, than the cast, including Flora Sowerby’s short skirted, soft porn cop, are running around as Hill’s signature music is played on kazoos.
Occasionally one feels that some members of the cast lack the full set of skills required to play comedy at this speed. However, the momentary lapses are easily forgiven when one considers the inventiveness of Kirk Bagé’s conjuror Dr Pinch, who is reinvented as a self-aggrandising American TV evangelist in a lurid suit.
There are fine, comically exaggerated performances across the cast, not least by all four of the doppelgangers (Tom Duncan and James Ronan as the Antipholuses, and David James Kirkwood and Robert Elkin as the Dromios). Wearing its referendum politics very lightly indeed, this Comedy Of Errors makes up in confident daftness anything it might lose in subtlety.
If Barr’s production is something of a rough diamond, there is, as one might expect, a great deal more professional polish to be found in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new comic musical, Whisky Kisses. Created by Euan Martin, Dave Smith and James Bryce for Cameron MacKintosh’s Highland Quest For A Musical, which culminated in 2007, the show follows the fate of the oldest bottle of the Glenigma, reputed to be one of the greatest Scotch whiskies in the world.
The Highland distillery has fallen on hard times, thanks to the gambling debts of its former owner, and now his daughter, Mary McGregor (played charmingly by Mairi Morrison), is auctioning the great bottle in order to provide some sort of redundancy package for her soon-to-be-unemployed staff. What follows is an unapologetically romantic tale in which the arrival in the glen of two wealthy collectors from America and Japan becomes a spiritual journey of discovery for everyone involved.
Sadly, jolly though the piece is, the opening, appropriately Broadway-style song, Got To Have It, sung by American collector Ben Munro (played by Pitlochry veteran Dougal Lee), turns out to be the most memorable in the show. More worryingly still, besides Morrison (when she’s signing in Gaelic) and Scott Armstrong (as Munro’s assistant), few members of the cast could be properly classified as singers.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on July 6, 2014
© Mark Brown