Make a moment thirty different ways, and you’re good. Find a thirty-first, and you’re golden. The Propeller Theatre Company, a 14-man force of nature, might be a little offended by such a low standard. The company is infamous for rocking Shakespeare’s pedestal with its re-imaginations of The Taming of the Shrew, Henry V, and others. Starting this week, the Company’s electrically daffy production of The Comedy of Errors is enjoying its United States premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The Propeller Theatre Company is the brainchild of artistic director Edward Hall who, after helming a 1995 production of Othello at Britain’s Watermill Theatre, was determined to mount a Shakespeare production employing an all-male cast. That opportunity came in the form of 1997’s Henry V. The rest, as they say, is history. Since the beginning, Propeller’s productionshave enjoyed a rigorous touring schedule throughout the U.K. In recent years, Hall and company have taken their unique aesthetic from Australia to Ireland, Tokyo to Gdansk, leaving a loyal following of repeat offenders in their wake.
What gets this Propeller going is a working attitude that embraces its ensemble members exactly as they are—testosterone, silliness, opinions, and party-trick talents included. Edward Hall is deeply committed to the group dynamic, to the point of offering automatic roles to returning performers (the record belongs to Chris Myles, who has appeared with Propeller for nearly 15 years). He has a healthy respect for Shakespeare’s icon-laden production pedigree, but has no interest in repeating others’ history. Each production is an opportunity to give a timeless text a swift kick in the pants. With this approach, they are able to view each play’s words, themes, conflicts, and possibilities with cobweb-free clarity. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, who plays Antipholus of Syracuse, notes that some audiences find their directness disarming:
“[After] one of our first night’s shows in England, a woman said, “So, who wrote this version?”… And I said, “It’s uncut—exactly as [Shakespeare] wrote it.” She said, “But I understood every word of it! When I was at school, I understood about thirty percent of it.” I said—that is what a Propeller production does. That’s Ed Hall’s genius, he blows the dust off the cover of the book and you actually understand it for the first time.”