A big new breeze, a fresh young wind has blown into Maynardville with director Matthew Wild and his creative team at the helm of this year’s Shakespeare in the park. The most exciting thing about this production is how young it is. Let’s face it; Maynardville is an institution, and coupled with the fact that it’s an annual Shakespeare, it pulls serious weight. So a young, new generation of theatre people is so welcome to shake it around a bit. Did they? Almost.
Last night the park looked so pretty with the chinese lanterns and lights and I loved the White Rabbit sweets, chinese fortune cookies (and completely irrelevantly, The Creamery ice cream).
Then we took our seats as the sun went down for some The Comedy of Errors. This is so difficult for me to ‘review’ for a number of reasons, but the main one is that I saw the National Theatre production in London not two months ago, and I can’t help comparing, which is totally, ridiculously unfair. The Comedy of Errors was also one of my firstÂ Maynardville experiences, which I remember unbelievably clearly. Soli Philander was in it and it was done Asterix style.
So, I thought, how about two lists, of things I loved and liked and things I didn’t like or didn’t work for me.
I loved the concept. I think the Kung Fu theme and the execution of it was delicious, iconic, modern and funky. The detail of the design (Angela Nemov), costumes (but not so much the girls’ ones), the styling, the actual Kung Fu and the music was fabulous. I loved the second half which was jolly and rompy and Kung Fuey. The school kids will go crazy. I loved Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns as the set of Dromio twins. They were brilliant. In fact, I’ll come right out and say it, Rob stole the show. Literally. He was the best thing in it, on it and through it. I will never, ever forget his explanation of how fat Nell was. James was his perfect twin. Lovely. I loved Andrew Laubscher as Antipholus of Ephesus. He was just the right mix of arrogance, frustration, speed and wit to be hilarious. I enjoyed Stephen Jennings as Egeon and his opening speech was warm and truthful and set the right tone. I also enjoyed Chi Mhende as Solinus. She was still, commanding and clear, with a gorgeous voice. I could hardly believe she was huge, fat Nell as well – a total transformation. I enjoyed Francesco Nassimbeni’s Angelo a lot. His character, the cockney-crooked foreigner-doing deals in China was totally slimily typical, down to his cotton socks in sandals (although I did worry for his voice). I loved the fact that I could hear and understand every single word on stage, and mostly get the meaning of the Shakespearian (having Liz Mills as voice coach was a genius move). I loved the silent basket merchants, carefully placed with their stock for eating, and fighting. I loved the fighting. And the sound effects. And the omnipresent, cute and quirky DJ (Nieke Lombard).
Things I did not love. I thought that it was all a little bit too serious, especially in the first half. I know, that’s when you have to set the scene, but I think the first half was handled too carefully, making it a bit slow and brooding. I did not love the fifty million accents. None of that made sense for me, especially that the sisters Adriana (Sonia Esgueira) and Luciana (Frances Marek) had two different accents.There was Italian, old fashioned Chinese, send-up Chinese, posh English, standard English and a kind of Kung Fu Chinese and it was too much. I did not totally love Nicholas Pauling as Antipholus of Syracuse. Though his performance was clear and well delivered, it was too serious and slow and considered to fit the comedy, and it was out of whack. I was disappointed that in the gorgeous styling there was the choice to have cloth sea. I hate cloth sea, especially if the cloth is too short to make like water. Ban cloth sea I say. I did not love the immovability of the set. Although I loved what it looked like I thought it was underused and a bit overbearing.
My advice to the cast, especially in the first half, is to find the funny. The play is a ridiculous case of Shakespearian mistaken identity. Let’s get there as fast as possible.
In a nutshell. Yes there is a fresh new wind at Maynardville. Did it blow my wig off my head? No. But the gentle wind does bring with it some pleasant possibility of change. I love the youth, effort, commitment, courage and flair of a brave new thing.