Identical twins, both named Antipholus and separated at birth, and their respective servants, likewise identical twins (who are both named Dromio and also separated at birth), cause chaos and confusion when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in the Greek coastal settlement of Ephesus, home of their namesakes and unbeknown twins. With mistaken identities causing farcical misadventures and confusion for the citizens of Ephesus, The Comedy Of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest comedies.
So how do you meet the challenge of staging a comedy with two sets of identical twins when you don’t have identical twins in the cast? By going in the completely opposite direction!
Rachel Fletcher (Dromio of Syracuse), Tamsin Jacson (Antipholus of Syracuse), Kris Hamilton-Brain (Dromio of Ephesus) and Paul Chalmers (Antipholus of Ephesus) are collectively and individually superb. Each bring subtle nuances to their otherwise larger-than-life comedic performances, embracing the absurdity of their situations with extravagant gestures and facial expressions while also bringing commitment and sincerity to their roles in a way that adds a profoundness to otherwise superficial characters. With razor sharp pace and dexterity, all four provide excellent comic timing, interpretation and delivery of often complex dialogue.
From the very beginning, Director Oliva Dutson draws on her knowledge and experience gained whilst training with the RSC to bring insight, understanding and clarity to one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies with fabulous and hilarious results.
In her programme notes, Dutson says, “When I read my Masters in Shakespeare, … and trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, I was very fortunate to play Dromio of Ephesus. I came to realise that this twin is the shadow to his lighter and sunnier twin … and we see this in the Antipholuses too.”
Under Dutson’s magnificent direction, this interpretation is clearly brought to the Studio Theatre stage. With a firm nod to pantomime and satire, and acknowledgement during the opening scene that the twins are identical in every way (not!), each set of twins are almost an inverse reflection of each other.
In Shakespearean times, women were portrayed by men or boys, while modern adaptations often have women playing traditionally male roles – and Shakespeare himself wasn’t averse to having characters disguised as members of the opposite sex when it suited him. So it seems entirely natural to have the identical twins played by male and female actors! Unlikely as it may seem, it not only works here – it works brilliantly well!
The principal quartet may hold centre stage, however there is also great support in depth from the rest of the cast. George Cotterill and Lorna Matthews-Keel are outstanding comedic actors as sisters Adriana and Luciana, equalling the ‘fab four’ for comic timing and delivery. Anthony Von Roretz’s portrayal of Dr Pinch is simply unforgettable, while Jemma Clark gives a promising debut performance as Angelo the goldsmith and Lewis Chalke continues to prove that he made a good decision to return to acting from writing.
It’s not easy to play Shakespeare well – and yet in The Comedy Of Errors, Studio Theatre make it look ridiculously simple!
“I hope my wonderful cast and crew bring light and laughter to you this evening”, says Dutson. In an ensemble production enhanced by first class lighting, sound effects and a set design evocative of a Greek-inspired seaside resort and with fine attention to artistic detail, this is the perfect antidote to any darkness going on in the world around us (even if only for the duration of the play). Running until Friday 21 October (7.30pm each evening) and with tickets available online, I cannot recommend this highly enough!