It shouldn’t be, but is (the show was postponed from Spring 2020), a coincidence that The Comedy of Errors is the RSC’s first production following a lengthy shutdown due to Covid. Both the title and preamble (‘these are strange times. Confusion and uncertainty everywhere. A father ends up in the wrong country on the wrong day as a government makes hasty proclamations about travel’) mirror elements of Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic and set the scene for what could easily have been an evening’s wringing of hands regardless of the viewer’s political persuasion.

Fortunately the madcap production does nothing of the sort, and it would scarcely have mattered if it did, as the socially-distanced audience at the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre, built specially for the occasion on the banks of the River Avon, were too busy enjoying the long-awaited return of live performance to worry about such matters, especially on the sort of gloriously sunny evening the stunning open-air venue was made for.

And what a performance. Brilliant staging, dynamic choreography, some real belly laughs (I’m looking at you, Doctor Pinch), and contemporary twists (one misogynistic element of the script was delivered via a mocking Bernard Manning-style stand-up routine, and did I detect a hint of Dubai-style decadence during repulsive displays of consumerism?) making for a hugely entertaining production.

Director Phillip Breen’s modern interpretation also included a briefly serious start - refugee Aegeon recounting the story of his arrival in a strange land to an unsympathetic courtroom - but quickly took a deep breath and dived into comedically-infuriating farce, a move underlined when one of the Dromio twins literally (with artistic license) made a splash in the Avon. As usual the servants play a key role in Shakespeare’s narrative, but their masters, the equally estranged Antipholus twins, are the undoubted stars of the play - and the performances of the leading actors were suitably stellar too, the deadpan delivery of Guy Lewis in the first half more than matched by the animated madness of Rowan Polonski in the second.

In truth the entire cast were exemplary, but special mentions for scene stealers William Grint, Alfred Clay and Sarah Seggari, and the beyond-the-call performance of a fairly heavily pregnant Hedydd Dylan as Adrianna, who endured an especially physical workout given the extreme heat. Making the leading lady pregnant gave even greater resonance to the play’s ultimate themes of family and reunion, something not lost in the wake of the past 18 months, nor in the symbolic extra-long hug between the reunited Dromio twins at the finale. The standing ovation that accompanied it arguably reflected the audience’s appreciation at being back among fellow theatregoers as much as the exceptional show they’d just witnessed, but that’s surely the point - and one of the reasons we’re delighted to be able to embrace the joy of live entertainment once again.

Five stars.

Review by Steve Adams