Reviewed Today: Quidam in The O2 and The Comedy of Errors at the Abbey Theatre


The O2

In the age of cinematic CGI effects, it is easy to become cynical about the circus. Technology has been manipulating the possibilities of the human body for decades now: superheroes are humans who can fly, become invisible, duplicate themselves, be in two places at the same time. However, Cirque du Soleil replicates such awesome superhuman abilities, without illusion, without special effects, and Quidam,one of 17 shows that the company is currently touring worldwide, is a testament to the amazing potential of the human body.

A loose story places a bored 12-year-old in an alternative universe where amorphous dancers and anonymous masked technicians alternately entertain and frighten her. A live score, composed by Benoit Jutras, provides a more concrete narrative; its playful, haunting, exhilarating rise-and-fall telling a story of its own. The thin whistle of Ella Bang’s soprano solos as the lost child Zoë provide structure to the score’s densely thickened atmosphere of danger and drama, ensuring that the sequence of stunning tricks maintains a narrative focus.

Those tricks are, quite literally, jaw-dropping. Woven together by Debra Brown’s fluid choreography, they include circus standards like hand-balancing, aerial contortions, German wheels and diabolo juggling, and yet in Cirque du Soleil’s company these tricks are anything but routine. The performers are so good that their opening exercises leave the audience breathless, wondering where the trick can possibly build to. Could there be any finale that tops what went before? Apparently so.

The tiny diabolo jugglers, four young Chinese girls, perform impossible acrobatic feats as they tease us with their astonishing skill, their marionette-dance a charming enhancement of the otherworldly atmosphere. Olga Pikhienko’s solo seems like a remarkable double-jointed deed, as she blends contortionism with her hand-balancing act. Jerome Le Baut and Anna Vicente’s controlled balletic statue act is a strongman and strongwoman team of phenomenal physical power, while words cannot describe the astounding floor show which provides the finale, as bodies, appearing from nowhere, sail through the air.

That, after such miraculous displays of physical flair, a clown (Toto Castineiras) should steal the show, suggests just how absolutely brilliant Quidamis. This is circus theatre so good that you’ll never go again for fear of disappointment. Unless, of course, it’s to Cirque du Soleil. Until Saturday SARA KEATING

The Comedy of Errors

Abbey Theatre

Antipholus just isn’t himself today. Although he’s a complete stranger in Ephesus, everyone greets him by name. He is further surprised to discover himself in a less than happy marriage and in constant receipt of gifts, money and liberal misunderstandings with his full-time manservant/part-time jester Dromio, who is behaving more inconsistently than usual.

In Shakespeare’s deceptively farcical play of doppelgangers, double dealing and mistaken identities, each character is entirely unwitting. But Jason Byrne’s self-aware production is very witting indeed.

In a play of piled-on confusions and screwball contrivances, Byrne’s instinct is to pare things back rather than elaborate. Anthony Lamble strips the Abbey stage bare and turns every set into an exposed scaffolding, as though amid all the subterfuge the production is aching for some transparency. That partly explains why Byrne has cast Charlie Bonner as the day-tripping Antipholus of Syracuse and Rory Nolan as his long-separated identical twin, Antipholus of Ephesus – two actors so marvellously dissimilar they make even Peter Daly and Ciarán O’Brien look like brothers, who, incidentally, play the indistinguishable Dromios.

There’s a knowingness to this production which almost seems a discrepancy against a comedy of bewilderment. Dressed in gaudy holiday-resort throwbacks – all Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, powder-blue sports jackets and gypsy dresses – anyone here can pop on a pair of sunglasses and become instantly incognito, retreating to the sidelines to join a chorus of disapproval while briefly invading the stage to dance and disperse, like a flash mob disco.

Like the boys from Syracuse, we’re not let in on such Ephesian jokes and when Bonner and Daly’s extended repartee is punctuated with canned laughter, the irony boils over: fans of Elizabethan wordplay will be annoyed, the rest of us feel amused but frozen out.

Words are treacherous things though – every pun is a case of mistaken identity – and though nobody does inspired line reading or physical slapstick better than Nolan and Daly (who simply steals the show), Shakespeare’s comedy is something more subversive. It’s not for nothing that even the simplest transactions here fall apart, that a man will die if he can’t make his repayment, or that Syracuse and Ephesus are in the middle of a bloody trade war. With bad debts and easy credit undermining society, the play comes off as a fierce economic satire. Any similarity to our own situation is purely intentional.

That shiver of recognition makes the head-smacking contrivances, the zany gags and the cast’s witty embellishments all the sharper. And though Byrne often seems busy deconstructing the jokes, letting the opening scene become an unpardonable snore, everything that follows is good, edgy fun. The double acts work reliably well, but it’s Natalie Radmall-Quirke as the accidental husband-swapper Adriana who best understands that nothing is funnier than someone trying to remain in control while every old certainty collapses.

Right here, right now, that brings laughter with a much deeper resonance. Make no mistake about it.