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Richard III/The Comedy of Errors, Hampstead Theatre, 25/29 June 2011

Propeller’s double-bill of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors looked much better in the bigger space of the Hampstead Theatre than they had done on the more cramped stage of the Watermill near Newbury where I had first seen them.

The larger stage particularly suited Propeller’s expansive physical comedy, which was the highlight of both productions.

A bigger theatre also meant a bigger audience, and the laughs and squeals from the more substantial Hampstead crowds must have lifted the mood of the cast.

It was very enjoyable to watch Propeller’s bright colour palette being splashed across a much broader canvas.

Performing in the capital meant some specific London references were used in the productions. They managed to work in mentions of Boris Johnson, Camden Council and the Oyster card.

More crucially, the scene in Richard III where the crookback encountered the mayor and citizens of London saw the audience being addressed as if they were the crowd that Richard was trying to sway.

A second view of Propeller’s Comedy of Errors provided an insight into how some of the comic touches in the production had originated in a close reading of the text.

The police officer who arrested various of the characters wore leather trousers. Every time he took a step, a duck whistle sounded, creating the impression that his leather trousers were continuously squeaking.

This was derived from Dromio of Syracuse’s description of him in 4.2, which stated among other things that the officer was “in a case of leather”.

At every mention of the gold chain that Antipholus of Ephesus had commissioned, a percussion instrument made a ‘ding’ noise.

The textual origin of this lies in another line from Dromio of Syracuse in 4.3:

Dromio of Syracuse

Not on a band, but on a stronger thing;
A chain, a chain! Do you not hear it ring?

Adriana

What, the chain?

Dromio of Syracuse

No, no, the bell: ’tis time that I were gone:
It was two ere I left him, and now the clock
strikes one.

Adriana’s mistaken but understandable assumption that Dromio was referring to the chain ringing was incorporated into the production so that each reference to the chain was accompanied by a ringing sound.

On a general level, a repeat look at Propeller’s Richard III was more enjoyable than the first view. Familiarity with their gory, light-hearted take on the play meant that it no longer disappointed. It was possible to appreciate the production as another of their comedies rather than regret their failure to use the unique perspective provided by their all-male cast to explore the play seriously.

But on a positive note, another view of their Comedy of Errors brought home the intricate detail that had gone into the staging of the physical comedy.

The chaos of riotous onstage moments relies, ironically, on meticulous order and preplanning.

Another enjoyable feature of my second look at The Comedy of Errors was a proper chance to see and hear the cast singing a medley of eighties songs that formed the background to their charity collection.

The cast used up most of the interval in that production to raise money for charity, when they could have stayed backstage having a rest.

Propeller’s sell-out London run was followed by an announcement that their next season will include a reboot of their 2005 production of The Winter’s Tale and a new version of a play they have previously performed, Henry V.

Expect tickets for their return visit to the Hampstead to go fast.

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