Penned at the end of the sixteenth century and adapted from a piece by ancient Roman playwright Plautus, The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earlier works. As a means of providing younger theatregoers a light-hearted introduction to Shakespeare’s canon, Hilary Bell has created a new adaptation of the comedic play, entitled Take Two: A Comedy of Errors. That adaptation arrived on stage last week at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres in its world premiere production by National Theatre of Parramatta.

Directed by Stefo Nantsou, Take Two: A Comedy of Errors retells the risible tale of two sets of identical twins who were inadvertently separated at birth. They go on to become Antipholus of Ephesus (Bilal Hafda) and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus (Mansoor Noor), and Antipholus of Syracuse (Hafda) and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Noor). Many years after their separation, in the city of Ephesus, they are reunited in the course of a series of outlandish events that unfold over the course of 24 hours.

Bell’s adaptation combines contemporary text with original Shakespearean text and adds a good measure of local references. Nantsou’s direction appropriately adds elements of pantomime to proceedings, including audience participation. The result is 75 minutes of Shakespeare-themed slapstick and silliness that achieves its goal of acquainting younger audiences with the works of the Bard in an accessible, entertaining and authentic manner. And, on opening night, the crowd response was enthusiastic; audience members (the majority of whom were late primary school-aged children or high school-aged teens) laughed at all the right moments and keenly participated when prompted.

Maximising the laughs, Nantsou’s cast members throw themselves wholeheartedly into the madcap antics. Gabriel Fancourt showcases impressive character actor skills in a number of supporting roles, while Lindy Sardelic’s comic portrayal of the feisty Adriana, the neglected wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, is well suited to the show’s pantomime feel. Libby Asciak is wonderful as Adriana’s loyal sister, Luciana, and Hafda and Noor entertainingly lead the group (though it’s Noor whose comedic skills are particularly strong). Altogether, the five actors play 12 roles.

Imogen Ross’s simple representation of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus fits the large Riverside Theatre stage neatly, and her colourful costumes incorporate humour successfully. Maria Alfonsine’s compositions complement onstage action nicely but, on opening night, there are moments when performers need better amplification, in order to be heard at the back of this large auditorium.

Take Two: A Comedy of Errors is well-conceived and well-performed family entertainment that reinforces NtofP’s endeavour to reach wide and diverse audiences across Western Sydney. It’s also a commendable effort to make Shakespearean comedy fresh and exciting for the next generation.

Photo credit: Noni Carroll