This summer, the RSC have created a glorious outdoor theatre for their staging of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. I spoke to Avita Jay, who plays Luciana about the return of theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
“I joined the RSC in January 2020 and we rehearsed The Comedy of Errors for 8 weeks at the beginning of last year, and then obviously on March 16th everything closed as we went into lockdown,” Avita said. “It was just a case of going ‘is this every going to happen? And now it is.
“It has just been amazing putting it in front of an audience and having that reward of when you rehearse a show and wonder if it is going to work? Then you see the audience respond and it is so gratifying and thrilling to finally be sharing it with them.”
Director Phillip Breen has taken the original script and given it an 80s setting. “There’s lots of bright colours, costumes and amazing wigs,” said Avita. “It really goes with the kind of money that is within the story itself. The theme works with the rise of capitalism that was happening in the 80s.
“Our version of Ephesus (the Greek city where the play is set), I’d say it’s like a Middle Eastern inspired cosmopolitan place where lots of different nations exist and live together.”
The Comedy of Errors tells the story of a separated family. It’s a fairytale farce of everyday miracles, mistaken identity and double vision.
The narrative is interjected with music performed by live singers. “The music moves from choral music to more lively, upbeat international music. It is all tied into the action and changes as time goes on.”
Originally rehearsed for inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, they had to make some adjustments to the production to bring it outdoors. “The biggest change is that we have microphones because there’s a lot of outside noise, such bikers and birds,” Avita said.
“Also the stage is different. It is in a thrust style and we are quite close to the audience, so we’ve been using the entrances and exits within the audience.
“We also don’t have lighting so we’ve lost that ability to focus action when we are on stage. We’ve had to do a lot more with ensemble work to focus the audiences’ eye.”
Despite making these changes, it all adds to the experience of enjoying theatre outdoors. “It’s the perfect show for summer,” Avita said. “After the year we’ve all had, it is so nice to have people together, making the most of the lovely summer we’ve been having to celebrate theatre.”
Not only is The Comedy of Errors a funny and entertaining show, but it also tackles many themes that are relevant today. “I think the themes of separation and people being reunited after a long time apart is obviously really topical for now,” Avita explained. “There’s also a lot of people trying to figure out who they are.
“I think that’s something we can really relate to after the past 18 months where we haven’t been able to see the people that we would have seen before. We haven’t been able to do the things we usually do and it makes us question who we are without those things.
“So I think it really is the perfect show in that respect, and of course the chance to laugh, enjoy and be entertained. That is what we all need right now.”
This is Avita’s first season with the RSC and whilst it hasn’t been quite what she expected with the lockdown, she has relished the new opportunities. From working with the education team, to performing Shakespeare ‘snapshots’ in the gardens last summer and then performing in the streamed production of The Winter’s Tale.
“It has been really great to be part of something even though a lot of the time we were waiting for news,” Avita said. “I think one thing I’ve realised doing things like streams and filming is that I realised how much safer I actually feel with an audience.
“I think maybe the perception is that it makes you more nervous the more people you have watching you. But there is something about being able to feel and see the people that are watching you that is really nice. You feel like you’re in it together and you get their immediate response in the moment and there is something quite supportive about that which I really miss.”
The Comedy of Errors is a fantastic summer show as it has everything you need for your return to theatre. “I want people to leave feeling joyous, energised and really excited about enjoying live theatre together again,” Avita explained.
“I also want people to really cherish the people that are close to them because I think that’s something that the play really says, that finding those connections with people is miraculous and beautiful and should be cherished and valued. It’s very moving and reminds you how important the connection with another person is.”
Photo by Pete Le May (c) RSC. Designer: Max Jones