Under Nicholas Hytner, the National has pursued an annual policy of producing a crowd-pleasing, family-appropriate Christmas show, but that hasn’t meant dumbing down or lightening up. Far from it. War Horse, one of the National’s biggest-ever hits, began in this slot. So did Coram Boy and His Dark Materials.
But this year the NT pulls out all the comic stops for the broad Shakespearean farce The Comedy of Errors, and Dominic Cooke – the Royal Court’s artistic director – makes his South Bank debut with a production that’s painted in bold, brassy, contemporary colours to provide perfect seasonal fare. There’s plenty of panto in this ribald, somewhat risque staging, including fart jokes, custard pie farce and Romanian street buskers. There’s even a popular television comic Lenny Henry, which in the manner of panto billing ads could neatly place in brackets after his name, “Lenny’s Perfect Night In”.
In fact this proves to be Lenny’s perfect night out. After giving an Evening Standard award-winning performance in the title role of Othello for Northern Broadsides in a production that then transferred to the West End, he’s now seizing the Shakespearean mantle once again for a performance of far more cuddly affability as the stranger abroad, even if the first sight of him is the physical assault he launches on his servant Dromio (Lucian Msamati).
Meanwhile, of course, his identical twin, Antipholus of Ephesus (splendid Chris Jarman), already lives here, with his own servant, also an identical twin to the other Dromio (Daniel Poyser). In the escalating farce of mistaken identity that erupts around them, there are also cherishable performances from Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry as the wife and sister of Jarman’s Antipholus, marshalling multiple layers of confusion.
Director Dominic Cooke cooks up a true comic storm that would be the year’s comedy treat were it not to have been pipped to the post by the National’s One Man Two Guvnors. But this is a fast, funny treat for all seasons nonetheless.
Olivier, National Theatre, London, November 22-April 1, 2012
- William Shakespeare
- Dominic Cooke
- National Theatre
- Cast includes
- Lenny Henry, Chris Jarman, Lucian Msamati, Daniel Poyser, Joseph Mydell, Claudie Blakley, Michelle Terry
- Running time
- 2hrs 20mins