The Comedy of Errors, performed by the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company, opened on Friday 22nd October 2021 at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, and will run until Sunday 24th October. Hannah Walton-Hughes discusses the performance’s memorable moments, and how Shakespeare’s most underrated play lit up the stage with its colour, energy, and hyperbolic humour.
From the moment the lights went down and the action began, I could tell that I had been transported into another world. A world where the traditional quirks and language of Shakespearean society were perfectly combined with the modern world in which we live. The simple but decadent set consisting of four chairs, built up my expectations for a straightforward, uncomplicated play. However, it was Shakespeare, and I really ought to have known better!
It is hard to pinpoint the most successful aspect of this performance, but the acting and relationship between characters would certainly be one of them. Whilst the word ‘enigmatic’ could apply to all of the characters, from Naomi Sheldon’s terrifyingly passionate Adrianna, to Antony Bunsee’s pitiful Egeon, for me, Guy Lewis’ and Jonathan Broadbent’s portrayal of Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse respectively, really deserve the award for best performances.
The term ‘you can read him like a book’ may as well have been written for Lewis’ Antipholus. The way his face twisted in anger and his eyes widened in shock, flawlessly displayed every emotion he felt. Broadbent contrasted Antipholus with Dromio’s nervous jumpiness, and awkward aura. The physical dynamic between the two characters on stage clearly showed the domineering nature of Antipholus; by slapping Dromio in such an aggressive manner, Lewis shocked the audience with Antipholus’ unexpected changes in mood. This brings me onto my next point: the mirroring shown between the twin brothers.
both Lewis and Morris left the audience wondering if the brothers’ unlikeable traits could have been avoided, had they only been able to enjoy the love of a stable family
Whilst I personally felt that Dyfrig Morris’ Antipholus of Ephesus lacked the authenticity and likeability of Lewis’ character, there is no denying the similarities displayed between the twins: the disrespectful manner in which the brothers treated their servants, and the often childlike aspects of their extreme emotions, were defining familial characteristics. Both Lewis and Morris left the audience wondering if the brothers’ unlikeable traits could have been avoided, had they only been able to enjoy the love of a stable family.
I felt the variety of props whisked out throughout the performance increased the show’s comedic appeal, and its modern tone. Highlights for me included the way in which the microphones on stage were used in order for characters’ arguments to be heard in addition to allowing the chorus to sing between scenes, the hand sanitiser that Antipholus of Syracuse whipped out at various points (a ‘prop’ that is all too familiar to us), and a bar of Toblerone that substituted a sword! Miming was also entertaining, particularly when Antipholus of Ephesus tried and failed to open the door to the house where his wife lay with his twin brother!
The use of lighting to ‘break the fourth wall’ was the only part of this performance which I felt was slightly less effective. Whilst I understand that ‘breaking the fourth wall’ is a feature of Shakespeare’s comedies, I felt that this wasn’t always effectively carried out. For example, the house lights came up very randomly during the scene where Antipholus and Dromeo of Syracuse are discussing Dromeo’s lover. Then they disappointedly went down again, after very little audience interaction – I expected to be sung to! That being said, the singing between each scene, whilst a little overdone, was good fun, and built a strong connection between the audience and the characters.
not everything ended perfectly, but it was perfectly imperfect, which was satisfying for me as an audience member
I felt that costume was perfectly used to represent each character’s social status. The smart suits and bright dresses/blazers of the upper class characters were juxtaposed with the simple checked shirt and trousers of the servants. Perhaps most striking for me, was the royal red, gold and green associated with Duke Solinus and all authoritative figures. As in traditional Shakespearean performances, the characters’ costumes decorated who they were.
Finally, I wish to discuss the ending; my favourite scene. From the eye contact maintained by the two sets of twins, to the back of the stage opening to reveal Egeon’s wife, Aemilia, as if from heaven, to the visible gathering of the characters backstage, and of course, the disco lights and music in the ending credits, the end scene displayed a level of emotion, comedy and chemistry between the characters that was unparalleled throughout the play. Not everything ended perfectly, but it was perfectly imperfect, which was satisfying for me as an audience member.
Overall, this was an exceptional piece of drama, that both epitomised Shakespeare’s meanings and themes, whilst also distinguishing itself from other adaptations. It was a Comedy of Errors indeed, but there were very few errors in this myriad of talents. It was my first time viewing this play, but I know it will not be the last. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact.
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