This is the second production of “The Comedy of Errors” that I’ve seen this year, and both could not have been more different. The first, presented by Oddsocks back in July, took the text and made it more child-friendly, ad-libbing occasionally to explain the plot and reworking the play for just four actors.
The RSC’s production is a much more traditional affair, featuring a cast of over 20, and being much more faithful to the text. That doesn’t mean that the play offers an unoriginal interpretation, however.
The play is shifted to the setting of a posh middle-eastern hotel, filled with celebrities and sheikhs, the cast dripping in golden jewellery and wearing ridiculous sunglasses. This is the city of Ephesus, where Antipholus, his wife Adianna and his servant Dromio, reside. Their lives are turned upside down with the arrival of another Antipholus and Dromio, from Syracuse, identical twins of the Ephesus characters (although neither realises they have a brother).
Thus the comedy begins – Adrianna beds the wrong Antipholus, Antipholus is accused of not paying for a chain he didn’t receive, and Dromio is confronted with the flirtations of a “wench” referred to in the text as “spherical”. The jokes may be 400 years old, but they still didn’t fail to make us laugh. Add to this the sheer physical comedy that was thrown into the play – Antipholus of Ephesus (played by understudy Dyfrig Morris) fighting off guards and ending up in a wheelbarrow pose, Antipholus of Syracuse (Guy Lewis) threatening people with carving knives and Adrianna (Hedydd Dylan, who shares the role with Naomi Sheldon for some performances) trying to perform yoga whilst heavily pregnant. It was all very silly, but perfectly in keeping with the frankly ridiculous nature of the play.
There are more serious sides to the play, of course. One of the most touching moments was the meeting of both Dromios (Jonathan Broadbent and Greg Haiste), who were both unsure of their counterpart until they realised they had more in common than they first thought. A special mention should also go to Antony Bunsee in the role of Egeon, the father of both Antipholusses(?) who delivered many powerful speeches about losing his son and his wife, and begins the play being sentenced to death for trespassing in Ephesus.
The production features acapella music from Alex Saunders, Dunja Botic, Dale Harris, David Jones and Riad Richie, aiding scene transitions and helping the pacing of the play. It was hard to believe that the music was all man-made without the aid of instruments – very well done indeed, and one of my favourite things from this production.
Myself and Tom definitely left the show feeling inspired to work more physical comedy into our future productions. It felt so good to finally be watching a new RSC production in the theatre – and with the news of the RSC’s new programme of shows for 2022 recently being announced, there seems to be plenty more to look forward to.
Tom Morley, October 2021