Laughter no relief

26th July 1996 at 01:00
The Comedy of Errors The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. Tragedy is the unacknowledged twin of comedy. That's the thesis this intriguing production (sponsored by NatWest) sets out to prove. To do so, it transports Ephesus to a sunlit brick square in Haiti, complete with menacing Tonton Marcoute heavies and Dr Pinch as a voodoo priest.

Only the Dromios are allowed a sense of humour. Everyone else acts as if they were characters in a Graham Greene novel re-written for the stage by Henrick Ibsen. No comic-book caricatures here as psychological realism struggles to deliver Shakespeare's heavily patterned early verse. The Antipholus twins have their minds full of scorpions. Adriana is a smouldering husky-voiced Hedda Gabler.

The denoument is a sombre affair. There is no joy in the discoveries and reunions, only a sense of wary, baffled wonder. Audience laughter is edgy, tinged with relief. Clearly, no happy marriages lie ahead. In starkest contrast, the Dromio twins are appealing English ragamuffins, truly identical with their shaven heads, baggy shorts and woolly socks. Their eye-popping, energetic style splendidly matches Shakespeare's comic language. They emerge as the true heroes of the play, the only characters to find happiness. This production demands a rethinking of the play as merely lightweight comedy.

The production tours from September. Details from Sarah Jervis on 0171 382 7127.

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