After weeks of non-stop bloodshed, The Show Must Go Online went headlong into comic mode last week, following up their alumni production of Richard III with an excellent version of The Comedy of Errors. Though the series began with two plays that are technically comedies (The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew), they are both slightly problematic in their own ways – no such problem with The Comedy of Errors, however, which is the archetypal Shakespearean comedy. Twins? Check. A series of misunderstandings? Check. Love & marriage? Check. Happy ending? Check, check, check.
I have only seen this play once before, but that was enough for me to fall in love with it. Antic Disposition’s Jazz Age production in the summer of 2016 will live long in my memory; the aesthetic was perfect for the fast-paced & slapstick nature of the play, and the setting of Gray’s Inn Hall chimed in beautifully with the historic side of things – this was the site of the play’s very first performance back in 1594. An added bonus of The Comedy of Errors is that it happens to be Shakespeare’s shortest play, with all the madness & mayhem crammed into around two hours.
Edward Daranyi, of the Stratford Festival (Canada), was on hand to introduce this week’s production. He approached it as a theatre practitioner, as he freely admits to not being a Shakespeare scholar – he wants to be transported by the story more than anything else (I may or may not have cheered when he said this). It was rather apt for Daranyi to be introducing this particular play, as it was the very first Shakespeare play he ever saw (along with Twelfth Night) and he recalls “great belly laughs” at this modern dress production – as well as an interaction with a couple of slightly more experienced & academic members of the audience… After his own enjoyment of the twists & surprises of the play, Daranyi really didn’t want to spoil it for anyone watching for the first time, helpfully giving the basic setup of the play and a taste of the kind of characters that we’d come across (including a “would-be exorcist”). “What could possibly go sideways in this?”
Brace yourself, as I try my best to untangle some of the plot here… There is a law in Ephesus that forbids merchants from Syracuse from entering the city, so when Egeon is discovered he faces execution – unless he can pay a fine of 1,000 marks. He tells Solinus (Duke of Ephesus) the story of how his family was torn apart by a shipwreck many years previously; he & his wife had twin sons, born on the same day as another pair of twins whom he bought from their poverty-stricken mother to be slaves for his sons – the family was split completely in half by the shipwreck, Egeon taking one son & one slave and his wife taking the others. Now grown up, Antipholus (son) and Dromio (servant) left Syracuse in search of their brothers, Egeon going in search of them when they failed to return. Solinus gives him one day to pay his fine, moved by the sadness of his tale. And little does he know that Antipholus & Dromio have just arrived in Ephesus themselves – but even before they can settle in, confusion arises. Without realising it, the pair have found the location of their brothers! However, they have been given the same names – and their identical counterpart never quite manages to be in the same place at the same time…
This week’s game? Spot the pounds! Within the game – as within the play itself – there is a bit of wordplay going on, as we needed to spot both money changing hands and beatings. As you can probably imagine, I was very much up for this! (This project is certainly showing my character in an interesting light.) Though there were quite a few instances of things being bought or charged for, I think these were marginally outweighed by the acts of violence – usually meted out on one Dromio or another. If you’ve not seen a Show Must Go Online production before, I’m sure you wouldn’t have expected these beatings to take place at all, let alone so effectively – and even if you’ve seen one or all of the shows to date, the ingenuity of the actors still takes your breath away. Approaching these set-tos between master & servant with Basil Fawlty & Manuel in mind was perfect, as it definitely helped to maintain the comedy (on top of the farce that invariably led to the beating).
Looking out for all these pounds must have kept me more on the ball than usual, as I managed to think of a question to ask the team in the chat for the first time! The casting director for the series is Sydney Aldridge, and she has done an absolutely incredible job ever since she came on board; there has been terrific diversity and wonderful genderblind casting, which plays its part in making the shows as engaging as they are. With that in mind, I was curious to know what their aims were as far as casting the two sets of twins: whether they actively went down the route of having similar-looking actors, or thought about trying to make things even madder by doing the opposite. Though tempted to mix things up a bit, they decided to stick with the “dramatic intent” of the piece – and hoped to keep everyone (audience & team alike) as confused as each other!
Speaking of the cast (nice segue, me), this was yet another excellent company; I particularly want to highlight the amount of brilliant ‘background’ acting, and unspoken reactions to what was going on in some scenes – as well as a pair of truly hilarious Shakespearean-style ad libs from Robbie Capaldi and Jed Resnick. Both Antipholi ended up prompting one of their fellow actors that their mics were muted and so we couldn’t hear them – Gary Boulter’s response as Doctor Pinch in the latter case (“I was on the spiritual plane”) also tickled me, as it was so in keeping with his character. As well as the fantastic sets of twins, I was also particularly drawn to some great reactions from Honey Gabriel (Courtezan) and Alice Osmanski (Angelo).
The interactions between master and servant – whether in the correct configuration or otherwise – were probably the highlights of the show for me, whether it was a piece of slapstick violence, the Syracuseans entering with a comical combination of swords, or the Ephesians mucking about with a piece of rope. Amy Sutton and Roanna Lewis’ reunion of the Dromios was the perfect way to round off the show.
This production was an absolute blast, and definitely was a refreshing change from the bloodiness of the histories (& fake history). We’ll be getting into some of the really well known plays over the next few weeks and, though some of them I’ve seen more times than anyone probably needs to, I can’t help but be excited about what this team will do with them in this fantastic medium. And don’t forget that you can still sign up to take part in these future productions – no experience required!
Next week: Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Comedy of Errors was broadcast on 6 May 2020. The Show Must Go Online runs every Wednesday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page.