A celebration of everyday life in all its imperfection
Friday, 25 February 2011
Shock news: Shakespeare is funny
If I am absolutely honest, Shakespeare is not my first preference when it comes to theatre. I realise this confession has destroyed any chance of maintaining the illusion that I'm remotely 'cultured', but it's the truth. I enjoyed studying and reading his plays at school but there's something about that reverential vocal style often used in theatre productions of Shakespeare that turns me off. Or productions are so self consciously 'alternative' - set in lunatic asylums, or Nazi Germany - that this gets in the way of the drama itself. I certainly have never enjoyed Shakespeare's comedies. At least with his tragedies you can enjoy the dramatic tension of the remorseless turning of the wheel of fate towards the final reckoning. In his comedies, as far as I could see, there were just lots of mistaken identity plot devices and sometimes some fairies. And the jokes aren't funny.
Well. I was wrong. We went to see a production of the Comedy of Errors by Propellor last night - and frequently laughed out loud. It was definitely not a reverential approach. Set in a South American version of Corinth, complete with mariachi band in sombreros, it was Shakespeare meets panto meets a Ray Cooney farce. The comedy was broad and often physical, but it was smart and imaginative and knowing. All the slapstick - accompanied by the requisite live sound effects - was delivered with perfect timing.
Propellor is an all male company, which meant the female characters were drag turns. There was quite a lot of knowing humour drawn from that - not least in the appearance of the Mother Abbess in fishnets and boots, to the strains of Madonna's Like A Prayer - but it didn't undermine the power of the characters. And let's not forget, when Shakespeare wrote his plays, he was writing for all male companies.
As a bonus, the mariachi band played raucous versions of Eurythmics hits in the interval.
Photo by Manuel Har / Propellor
I hope I haven't made this sound naff or dumbed down. Because in amongst all the cross-dressing and running gags, the language was Shakespeare's and was brought to life in such a way that not only did the plot and narrative tension come through, but the verbal humour made sense. It is a production that embraces and celebrates the original play and injects it with new theatrical energy.
Propellor are touring this in the UK and the US until July. If you would prefer something with a bit of gravitas, they are performing Comedy of Errors in rep with Richard III. Both productions have had rave reviews, and if I didn't have other commitments, I would be going to see Richard III this weekend. They were that good.