Audience Choice: The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare’s Globe
Faced with apparent rejection by her apparent husband in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, Adriana cries, “If we too be one and thou play false, / I do digest the poison of thy flesh”. However, the circumstances in which the audience of the Globe are able to bear witness to Evelyn Miller’s moving performance in this role comes about by some combination of luck and – perhaps – deus ex machina, as the crowd are invited to take part in the Globe Touring Ensemble’s audience choice experiment.
This “democratic” method allows the spectators to decide, by means of popular vote, which play is to be delivered on stage at that particular show; in essence, theatregoers do not know what they’re going to be watching until they get there. The Globe lends itself particularly well to this concept, as a space in which past iterations of what it means to go to the theatre are regularly evoked as a challenge to more modern preferences. On this occasion, a tense neck-and-neck with Twelfth Night gives way to a production of The Comedy of Errors that showcases explicitly the versatility and skill of the cast, working with a pared-back set design and wardrobe that minimises distraction from the potency of their performances.
The knowledge that each actor (and backstage technician) must have prepared three full-length Shakespeare plays is quickly overwhelmed by the captivating opening scene. Egeon, here played by Mark Desebrock, explains the events that separated his family – including twin sons, accompanied by two twin servants – as the context for his arrival at Ephesus, from which Syracusians like himself – as the Duke (Mogali Masuku) reminds him – are forbidden, at risk of execution. The audience having been provided with this crucial information, the piece plays out, in this production, with refined balance between the hilarity of misplaced recognition and gripping portrayals of the grief and loss of a family torn asunder. The Bard’s lines are delivered masterfully by this cast; not a single pun present in the text has been overlooked as an opportunity for laughter, while those verses instilled with deeper meaning are spoken as if spontaneous.
By means of this experiment, the Touring Ensemble have added an exhilarating theatrical experience to a nuanced, engaging interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays. As The Comedy of Errors draws to a close, the sighs of the audience ring as loud as the cheers of the opening vote.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Audience Choice is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 19th June until 24th August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Audience Choice here: