The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ambiguity and mistaken identity have been some of the basic elements of comedy since the classics, as Plautus’s Menaechmi teaches us, and still, when well-shaped and structured, they are the most effective. It’s at the core of Shakespeare’s shortest play, and effectively delivered in this production directed by Sean Holmes.
In the city of Ephesus, Syracusean trader Egeon (Paul Rider), condemned to death, tells the Duke (Philip Cumbus) his story: when young, how he was separated from his wife during a shipwreck and of how their baby twin sons and twin servants were separated too, each going with one of their parents. Egeon is now searching for his son, Antipholus, who left seven years ago in search of his missing brother and mother. Without his knowledge, Antipholus of Syracuse (Michael Elcock) and his servant Dromio (Jordan Metcalfe) arrive at Ephesus and are mistaken for their twin counterparts, also named Antipholus (Matthew Broome) and Dromio (George Fouracres). Wronged wife, unpaid debt, and unjustified detention ensue.
Though keeping the Ancient Greek names, the comedy maintains its soul influenced by a 17th century English society spirit, rendered in the costumes and props. Other than the aesthetics, other elements of the era floating in the script are the importance of money, coins, a golden chain, a diamond ring, status, and the virtue and honour of relationships.
The opening is quite subdued in tone, broken up by a scene of physical altercation and then moving into the main body of the act. The commotion increases as the storyline intersects with the misunderstanding and identity exchange. The fluid junction of the twins, entrances and exits, and naturally convincing reactions of the other characters build the drama: exaggeration and sedimentary pauses all around the equivocal presence of the couples. It’s good fun, brisk and straightforward.
The small orchestra – which, as a must at the Globe, entertains the audience before the beginning of the show and leads the soundtrack for the final dance – inconspicuously oversees the action for the duration, dispensing timely slapstick sound effects.
Broome and Elcock play the naive and furious Antipholus in ways that both match and counterpose one another; they are the nerve of the performance, together with Laura Hanna in the role of a relentless Adriana. Hari MacKinnon as goldsmith Angelo provides injections of laughter in his incredulity at the constant mishaps.
A farce of confusion – or errors – excitedly enacted.
The Comedy of Errors is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 17th May until 29th July 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: