NT Live: The Comedy of Errors, Greenwich Picturehouse, 1 March 2012
Taking a second look at the National Theatre’s Comedy of Errors provided some new angles on the production.
In one respect, Lenny Henry was also back on familiar territory for this NT Live broadcast, as he was playing comedy in front of an audience with television cameras capturing every moment.
The main set used for the opening scene inside a derelict building reversed and split into sections to produce other locations. Some, like Adriana’s home at the Phoenix, were quite small in relation to the overall size of the stage, concentrating the action within a restricted space.
This format contained echoes of the original ‘arcade’ setting of the play, which involved the stage being divided into three sections representing houses to enable continuous action across various locations.
The close-ups brought out the comedy in Lenny Henry’s grimacing as the increasingly perplexed Antipholus of Syracuse.
Michelle Terry’s detailed performance of Luciana also benefited from the camera’s attention.
When she was propositioned by Antipholus outside the Phoenix, Luciana requested that he try to hide his dissatisfaction with his “wife” Adriana and not flaunt his dalliances.
She developed her idea in a long speech that culminated in a wonderful visual image related to him walking through the town with his mistress at his side: “Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve”.
This speech can be spoken in a continuous confident stream, so that the complex series of images and concepts appears to trip from Luciana’s eloquent tongue with the ease and facility of an expert orator.
However, Michelle Terry’s Essex Girl characterisation of Luciana was not meant to be one of nature’s great thinkers or public speakers. This required the flow of rhetoric to have more of a stutter. Consequently, her Luciana seemed to be developing this train of thought on the hoof as if the thoughts were just occurring to her.
The slow and deliberate development of her argument, punctuated by nervous gestures and a pained, embarrassed expression turned into one of the most memorable comedy sequences of the evening.
Extracting comedic juice from a speech like that was much more rewarding than rattling through it as if it required no effort.
The ability of the camera to zoom in on the reunited family in the final scene added to the poignancy of the moment.
NT Live broadcasts offer another way of looking at theatre. The additional perspectives they provide are a good reason to revisit productions that have already been viewed in the theatre.