Shakespeare's first comedy (and shortest play) is the Bard's most purely entertaining. The rhapsody of his finest poetry is not yet in evidence, but the man who knows how to spin a cracking yarn is already on fire.

Mistaken identity is a popular device in most of the Comedies - and in theatre back into classical antiquity. But here it is the play's essence and entire meaning. The improbable impelling event is the separation in a shipwreck of twin baby boys and their adopted twin brothers. The four grow up separately as matching master-servant pairs and end up on one madcap day in the same town.

Shakespeare's fiendish plotting contrives always to keep the twins apart but bring each unmatched pair constantly into contact.

As they - and others including a suspicious wife and a jeweller - get confused, we never are and there's lots of fun before it all gets sorted out.


Henry, who professes to have had an aversion to Shakespeare before he played Othello in 2009, goes looking for laughs here, which is no bad thing: he's a comedian, after all, and this play can survive hamming up. It fits Cooke's entirely irreverent approach, anyway: he has assembled around Henry a largely black cast which at times comes off like an East End version of the Naked Samoans and he makes Adriana and Luciana into Essex girls hungry for bling and a bit of how's-your-father.

Cleverly, the production touches some dark notes, alluding to the alienation of the newcomer in a hostile city and the sundering of family ties that is so often part of the immigrant experience. But mostly they're just having fun. You will too.

Stars: 5/5
Cast: Lenny Henry, Lucian Msamati, Chris Jarman
Director: Dominic Cooke
Running time: 140 mins
Rating: Exempt
Verdict: Short and sweet