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'The Comedy of Errors' by William Shakespeare

Published on August 1st 2005.

A perfect family outing for a real Summer's treat. A manic, madcap comedy with a potential tragic overtone, intellectual challenges and a revelatory ending. All of this built around the great idea of having two sets of identical twins causing chaos and havoc for everyone (including the cast).

This is a very funny version of a play which exhibits all the youthful exuberance of a playwright learning his trade and about to blossom. Acted with great gusto by an excellent Company this is yet another display of the multifarious talents of the 2005 RSC Company.

The Plays main source is Menaechmi by the Roman playwright Plautus. Mr Shakespeare decides to complicate matters by adding another set of twins causing bewildering confusion in a masterpiece of comic misadventure. A Syracusian merchant Egeon comes to Ephesus searching for his lost family. In one day the most incredible adventures occur and at the end of the day they all live happily ever after.

Not much to go on there. The two Dromio’s, Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse are brilliantly played by Forbes Masson and Jonathan Slinger. Mr Masson is a great Feste in this season's production of 'Twelfth Night' and Jonathan Slinger a fine Puck in 'A Midsummer Nights Dream'. Their double act is funny, expressive and takes advantage of all the many comedic opportunities opened up by the action. They both add considerable value to the performance.

Richard Cordery has a most important role as Egeon, their father. He has to set the scene, try to make everything comprehensible to the audience and (in a manner much beloved of Shakespeare) explain the importance of a shipwreck. He does this well. The shipwreck appears in a number of Shakespeare’s plays. It is often used as a device to explain, add poignancy and perhaps provide a degree of suspense to what is about to happen.

One reviewer, after seeing Clifford Williams 1962 production at Stratford Upon Avon, asked: “How ever can you stage such a conglomeration of improbabilities?”

On this occasion the improbabilities have to be accepted on their own terms with some backward glance and understanding of Shakespeare’s development as a writer and his gradual growth in relation to character development. The Egeon scene setting speech gives an early indication of the tragic potential which might have ended this one day very differently.

Adriana, well played by Suzanne Burden, has an almost modern view of marriage for a play written late in the 16th Century. The Antipholus twins are well fleshed out. Antipholus of Syracuse has a resemblance to Viola in 'Twelfth Night' in both his melancholy manner and his pain at being alone.

It is a short play, only 1800 lines, the shortest work Shakespeare ever wrote. Many critics do not take it seriously. It is often branded as being short on plot and characterisation.

The play lasts for two and a half hours. This production never ceases to engage one's attention and for that much praise to Nancy Meckler who directs it with aplomb. I loved the music by Ilona Sekacz and it was great having a Fight Director as talented as Malcolm Ranson. The RSC does have a wonderful Company.

It is an entertaining, enjoyable, crazy night at the RSC. Well done to everybody concerned.

Richard Burbage

Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Tel: 01789 403444
Web: http://www.rsc.org.uk

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