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Review: Midsummer’s Eve in the Amphitheatre? ‘Comedy’ not ‘Error’ – and all puns intended!

The summer evenings are finally stretching out and the Amphitheatre’s been decked out like a Greek taverna. That can only mean one thing: it’s the return of The Hurtwood Players. This year, under the capable stewardship of Stephen, Clare and Natalie, they are performing Shakespeare’s early farce, ‘The Comedy of Errors’. This is play of mistaken identity so rich in misunderstanding that our intrepid band of Hurtwood thespians did a run through of the prelude not once, but twice. The second time around they even held up name plaques and wore colour-coordinating tunics so we could tell the two sets of twins apart. A play in which two pairs of identical twins get separated, find each other, but don’t realise they have found each other may sound daunting, but it was played with such easy grace and excellent comic timing by the actors that nobody seemed to notice how ridiculously complicated the story was. The enjoyment levels were enhanced by some excellent weather and a couple of glasses of prosecco, naturally.

Oleksandra’s officious Duke kicks things off with a proclamation from the balcony that people from Syracuse are no good swindlers, which is no good for Aegeon, the father of one of the sets of twins (played with statesman-like grace by Arielle), since he now must find money for his bail. Our split twin pairings of Andrea and Donna (times two – keep up) duke it out trying to untangle the mess they’ve got themselves into, often literally. One Andrea and Donna pair – played by Grace and Hayley – are all sneering hysterics, and a penchant for being restrained with ropes. The other Andrea and Donna – played by Lola and Iside – sashay down the stairs in high-heeled synchrony, plenty of bling, and have a penchant for actually whipping people with ropes. The madcap troupe was rounded off by Felix’s angry, frying-pan wielding chef, and his acrobatic brother (Rafferty), both of whom look excellent in hot pants. Other highlights include the borderline psychotic courtesan, played by Corn. The image of him birthing a football will stay with us all for some time. Lily’s ‘Yogi’ Pinch was a great comic modern twist on Shakespeare’s original, and might have felt a bit close to home for some of the yummy mummies in the audience. Delia, Darcy, Madi and Sophie complete the picture in style, all delivering their lines with punch, clarity and humour.

So what about the dangers of taking on the most byzantine of plots, in an ancient and convoluted form of comedy, from the pen of our very own complex genius, Shakespeare? It was most definitely not an ERROR. Establishing a tone of joyful anarchy even as we settled ourselves once again into our glorious Amphitheatre in the woods, the company invaded our space, baffled our understanding, invited us into the party and gave us what we came for: COMEDY. Divided by some five centuries of varying theatrical traditions, we were all swiftly united in laughter by all the oldest of gags. Innuendo abound, gender roles were reversed, vertiginous heights were scaled as the cast quite literally raced and ranted from high and low, far and wide, and popped out (all puns intended) from every acting space available. As we struggled to remember who was who (and why) slightly tremulous members of the audience found themselves coached into the action and performed heroically. With its gold medallions, hot pants and giant salami slammers, this felt like soap opera meeting pantomime by way of the RSC. It was fun. This was an irreverent crazy piece from a happy, energetic, buzzing company enjoying all the freedoms of text and the end of term. Bring it on. The prosecco and nibbles were a great start: but how good did it feel to be back together? Hurrah for Hurtwood in the round, in the wood, and in the swing.


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