Setting isn’t usually a problem when it comes Shakespeare in Oxford. In a town full to the brim with beautiful, acoustic, historic venues, all relatively amenable to the plight of a troupe of students looking to tread some boards it shouldn’t be too hard to stumble across a decent place to pitch your stage. Shakespeare’s works as well tend to encourage a light touch when it comes to choosing a setting within the play – time period tends to be the variable rather than location – it’s pretty much unthinkable to change the wording, so if you do decide to set the production in, say, Spain, it ought to be pretty obvious how, where and why you’ve done so.
The problems with this latest touring production from the OUDS, A Comedy of Errors, start there – in setting and location. The University Church is a lovely building, ideal for all manner of things – sermons, prayers, choral pieces, even tourists looking to climb a tall tower – but not a cacophonous comedy such as this one. Several people were trying to move forward throughout the performance because the echoes were so hard to interpret. This isn’t as bad as the decision to equate Ephesus with Malaga. I couldn’t tell you why Malaga rather than another Spanish coastal town, but then I couldn’t tell you why Malaga in the first place. Allegedly the setting is a ‘sun soaked world of sex and self-indulgence’ – my partner quipped that the latter point was certainly true.
The most upsetting part of the whole production is that you really get the impression that without all of the fluff, the basic acting on display was certainly of a decent quality. The church (I hope) meant that some of the dialogue got a tad shouty, and the direction/soundtrack gave some especially painfully attempted slapstick moments, but other than that you had funny people playing funny characters in a funny play.
It's unfortunate that good performances from the Antipholi, Dromios and the double act of Gliksten and Greenfield as Adriana and Luciana, can’t make up for the distressful detractors – the recorded sounds made me cringe, the attempt to foist a Jeremy Kyle show concept into the final act was just weird, it’s apparently Adriana’s 30th birthday (?) but then that idea goes out of the window.
The script is good; the acting is good and if that’s enough for you – go down. I just wish the crew had tried to weed out about three quarters of the ideas that made it to the final production.