A Comedy of Errors
Two sets of identical twins wearing identical clothes, a family tragically separated then improbably reunited, and a good healthy dose of slapstick: A Comedy Of Errors has all the ingredients for a Shakespearian fun-night-out. However this is a difficult play to get right. There’s so much slapstick that some characters risk never emerging from predictable clownery, so much petty complaining and casual adultery that others can fail to be likeable, and while the final scene where everyone recognises everyone else has the potential to be touching, it is very often simply something to sit through between the laughs and the curtain call. There is a fine directorial line to walk in this seemingly simple story, but the Afghan theatre company Roy-e-Sabz treads it to perfection.
Setting the outdoor action in a Kabul souq is entirely appropriate – it’s small, crowded in a vibrant rather than a claustrophobic way, everyone knows everyone else, there’s wheeling and dealing aplenty, and within this bustling city life lies the potential for confusion of the most vociferous kind. The setting is made more authentic by the fact that it is performed in Dari Persian. There are surtitles, effectively done as summaries along the lines of ‘Arsalan has no idea what is going on and decides Sodhaba is a witch’, rather than a full translation, which could have distracted from the antics on stage.
The cast were brilliant without exception, but Shah Mamnoon Maqsudi deserves special mention for both of his contrasting performances. As the desperately forlorn Ehsan (Egeon), who has lost his sons and his freedom, he convincingly indulged in full-bodied passion, and as the rambunctious maid Kokeb (Luce), who spends her time chasing Bostan of Samaqand (Dromio of Syracuse) and flirting with everyone else (the musicians, the audience… everyone), he was completely hilarious.
The comedy was so polished that laughs came from more than just people being beaten up or falling over – they lay within the anticipation of everything going wrong and the indignation or bewildered resignation of all the characters when it did. There was also a weirdly funny dramatic irony in the surtitles sometimes telling us the upshot of a scene before it took place. It was like first seeing the caption to a joke and then watching all the characters play it out with a dreadful but comic sense of inevitability.
The vibrancy of this production, played out through exuberant acting, live music and imaginative staging, meant that the comedy never became repetitive and all the characters (including the musicians) were individual and likeable. If you get any chance to see this production, grab it! The only people that will smile more than you are possibly the members of Roy-e-Sabz theatre company themselves, who seemed to be having as much fun racing irreverently around the Sheldonian as we did watching them.