There is most certainly a lot to be said for colour-blind and gender-fluid casting, so long as those portraying the roles have the chops to let the audience suspend still more layers of disbelief. Of course with Shakespeare, virtually all of the female parts were played by men, so the precedent is beyond dispute to put the boxers on more comely hips.
But surely the litmus test of any “deviation” from the original scripts must be measured by the success of the drama taking gripping hold of the comedy tickling funny bones.
Last seen in these pages in 2018, Richard Monette’s swan song, (cross-reference below) decidedly took the cheap laugh, bawdy approach, inducing far more groans than chuckles—not to mention a guffaw. Eleven years hence, Keira Loughran’s vision had a lot to say about gender parity (one set of the Antipholus-Dromio twin sets being transformed to women dressed as men—Jessica Hill and Beryl Bain gallantly doing the honours) but produced very few belly laughs from the capacity crowd, none from me and sent two of my seatmates blissfully to dreamland—thankfully neither snored.
The hometown Ephesus pair (Josue Laboucane acing his banter as Dromio while Qasim Khan did yeoman’s service to much-maligned Antipholus) did much of the heavy lifting, yet the unmistakable physical evidence plainly demonstrated by their long-lost siblings just couldn’t fly. Because of that the intended confusion with Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife (Alexandra Lainfiesta adding much more hysteria than required) and sister (Amelia Sargisson fared better—even in reaction to the unwanted kiss from, so she believed, her sister-in-law’s husband), seemed more from the realm of Lesbos than men doing what comes naturally.
Playing the divinely coiffed Duke—with just enough fishnet stocking to seal the deal—Juan Chioran ably held court as She/He Who Must Be Obeyed. One could really be forgiven in thinking that Sébastien Heins had taken the wrong turn from the must-see Rocky Horror Show (cross-reference below) in his appearance as Courtesan. But without doubt, Rod Beattie’s deliberately large take on Luce was the best cross-dressing, er, outing of the production. Sadly, his extra duty as Dr. Pinch soon became tiresome when the stop-start shaking gag was forced into unwanted extra helpings.
Designer Joanna Yu’s singular set—with doors that led everywhere and nowhere added little to the proceedings, while Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s lighting plot—especially the transitions—were as welcome as Alexander MacSween’s musical contributions.
The physical comedy has its moments (the whip and handcuffs bringing many to the land of yuks), only to be muted when—once again—they were employed too often.
By the time everything had been sorted out in a truly happy-ever-after finish, many in the hall walked away satisfied with the result, while a few of us knew we’d have to await another day for the Bard’s magical wit and wisdom to be savoured like never before. JWR