5 *****

By John Pendergast

Did you know that there’s a botanical garden in St. Kilda? I didn’t! And did you know that there’s a Melbourne-based company performing Shakespeare in there? I didn’t know that either, but, gee, I’m glad I know now!

The Comedy of Errors is Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s latest offering. This 90-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s farce of mistaken identity is fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining. The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins who are separated at birth. When one half of these sets of twins happens to find themselves in the home city of the others, a series of events unfolds including mixed-up identities, wrongful beatings, attempted seduction, false arrests, incorrect accusations of infidelity, theft, and a little bit of assumed demonic possession thrown in for good measure.

This particular production was engaging and amusing from the get-go. I will start off by encouraging anyone attending the show to arrive early. Without this turning into a review of the gardens, (apparently I’m writing for Theatre People, not Garden People!), if you’ve never been to the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, they are worth having an explore around. Gates to the performance space then open approximately 30 minutes before the show, and the excellent, not-to-be-missed pre-show entertainment commences not long after that. The production is performed around a gazebo with the audience seated amongst the rose gardens. Not only was it an excellent use of the space from a seating perspective, but the cast were able to use the various pathways and existing garden features, such as hedges, to great effect.

Once the performance began, it became clear how well director Ben Adams had brought his vision for this play to life. The action flowed beautifully throughout, and it was obvious that the cast had been worked with extensively to ensure that they not only knew their lines, but also understood the meaning and intent behind them. Musical direction by Benjamin Colley was excellent. Although virtually no instruments were used, the use of voice to break up the scenes was highly effective. John Reed’s choreographer was generally simple, but this was a good thing as it felt natural and blended in well with the overall feel of the production.

Selecting stand-out cast members from this production is rather difficult. The cast worked beautifully together in such a way that no cast member out shone any others. This is an excellent thing, however it does make my job more difficult! Jonathan Peck and Callum Mackay’s performances as the Antipholuses were both excellent. They had obviously worked together to ensure they had similar mannerisms, however left enough differences between them to highlight the characters’ different personality traits. Joanna Halliday and Nicola Bowman were outstanding as the two Dromio’s. I will admit that it took me several scenes to realise that they were two different actors, so alike were their performances! I also particularly enjoyed Jacqueline Whiting’s interpretation of Adriana. She was able to find that perfect balance between snobby, demanding, whining, and down-right hilarious! Special mention must go, as well, to the barbershop quartet – Tref Gare, Sebastian Li, Jake Tolisch, and Sarah Wynen. They not only had beautiful harmonies, but excellent comedic timing. However, overall, I was thoroughly impressed with every cast member.

Costuming by Aislinn Naughton, assisted by Freyja Black, was perfect for this production. It blended both historical and modern pieces in a way that was both pleasing to the eye and assisted in the character development. I particularly liked the use of the character names effectively incorporated into their outfits. The set design by Hayley James made excellent use of the existing pieces within the gardens. The various pieces they then added were done in such a way that complemented the overall feel of what was already there and felt natural within the environment. Stage Manager Terri Steer, assisted by Chiara Ciulli, did an excellent job at keeping the pace of the production moving along.

Overall, I had such a fun time at this production and would highly recommend it. I would encourage anyone who loves a bit of outdoor Shakespeare, and even those who’ve never tried it, to grab one of the few remaining tickets and get on down to the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors is a production not-to-be-missed.