Review: The Comedy of Errors – ‘Ingenious’

By Gabriel Callaghan

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Summer Shakespeare is one of the focal events facilitated by the Bailey Theatre Company (BTC) post exams, usually taking place on Linton Lawn. However, this year, Shakespeare went digital. I wonder whether Shakespeare envisaged having a Youtube account so people can view his work across the globe rather than only in the globe? 

I found several aspects of this play ‘A Comedy of Errors’ imaginative. In Act 1 Scene 1, Egeon was condemned to death by the Duke of Solinus for a Syracusan born entering Ephesus. However, Egeon describes a ship accident where he was separated from his wife and other twin son and adoptee (Egeon took one son and an adoptee onto the rescue boat). One accomplishment of the directors (Peter Houston and Megan Ratcliffe) and producer Megan Davis was to transition into a flashback of this accident to allow the audience to visualise the situation. The thunder sound effects were well used and achieved a dramatic effect rather than solely a narrative. I was convinced by the props used by Joe Pape and Molly Byford, nursing a baby in a similar manner to each other. They were in separate rooms in College, separated by a wall symbolic of the boundary between Syracuse and Ephesus yet enjoying a parallel life wondering about each other. I don’t know if the Directors chose Joe and Molly deliberately, but I found that this choice added to the comedic effect and foreshadowed the later events of the play (a series of mistaken identity). Ironically, Joe and Molly have held the same jobs within College, from being ‘Head Freps’ to ‘SJCR President’ and being heavily involved in BTC; perhaps you might not distinguish the two if you didn’t know them!

My favourite scene in the play was during Act 1 Scene 2, where the irony and mistaken identity starts. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio of Syracuse visit Ephesus where Antipholus of Ephesis (the twin of Antipholus of Syracuse) is with his wife Adriana. However, when Dromio of Ephesus meets Antipholus of Syracuse by accident, an argument ensues as Antipholus wants to know what happened to his property given to Dromio of Syracuse (the wrong Dromio who of course denies it). Irony is embedded when Antipholus of Syracuse asks ‘why did you return so soon’. Clearly, we know that something is not right, but the irony is that Antipholus does not notice. It appears that a rapport was built up between Haseeb Assad and Michael Crilly as actors in the performance, contributing to the comedic impact. Haseeb Assad aims to exploit this rapport making the ignorance of the characters of the ‘comedy of errors’ clear, adding to the satire of this play. 

The interjections by the narrator Richard Dyer saying ‘confused, so am I’ were very apt and emphasise that the situation is turning farcical. These interjections help keep the audience connected with a plot that is progressively getting more farcical and emphasise the comedy ensuing. I feel that information was tactically included, such as in Act 3 Scene 2 where the narrator describes a long family chain and acts confused. 

Props were convincingly used and enhanced through editing techniques. One such technique was the effect of throwing one apple from Haseeb Assad to Michael Crilly which gave the impression that the correct Dromio was in the same house, although the actors were physically separated over a computer screen; a highly innovative use making the ‘video conference’ a stage rather than merely a conference. Another use was in Act 5 Scene 1 where Antipholus of Syracuse and the Second Merchant drew swords until the interjection of Adriana asking someone to take away the sword. The sword appeared to disappear from Antipholus of Syracuse’s hands adopting a pose which was convincing. 

Costume changes were effectively used, signifying the changes between characters; in some cases they were pivotal to understanding the performance, for example the transition between the Dromio and Anthipolus twins. It was a good choice for the same person to play the twin roles in different costumes. I have read other reviews describing the costumes ‘unimaginative’, but this play observes a ‘unity of time’ so it’s intended to depict a day in the life of the characters. In Act 2 Scene 1, the correct Dromio re-appears, however Anthipholus of Syracuse tells the correct Dromio to stop jesting. The fact that Michael Crilly reappears in a different outfit re-emphasises the camaraderie that was built up in the same act and adds to the confusion and surprise when Antipholus of Syracuse did not get the expected reaction. The echo from the two ‘Dromio’s’ talking at the same time makes the irony clear; that the catalogue of errors throughout the play took a while for the protagonists to notice. The same effect was employed with the two Antipholus’.

Clearly, this is a play designed for the stage in-person. However, I believe that the effective use of technology by the technical team (Michael Crilly, Benjamin Etheridge and William Guerin-Ciccone) has made the play clear and has even enhanced the play. The separation of the actors on screen in their own ‘box’ creates the appearance that the characters are isolated from the reality of the situation, they are isolated from certain pieces of information that we can see as the audience. In the final scene of the play, after a long chain of errors, all of the cast members re-appear in Act 5 Scene 1 and by putting all of the characters on the same screen, we are left with a sense of dread as to how complicated this ‘comedy of errors’ is going to get. The way the twins are at other sides of the screen (although the same person) clearly emphasises how the events of this play originated from mistaken identity, from the wrong Dromio being handed the gold to the wrong Antipholus being locked out of the house and allegations of adultery. 

I found this play to be adapted in a way that was imaginative and the editing techniques were ingenious. This production had the potential to be a literal Comedy of Errors through technological mishaps. However, it was not. It was well executed. This was the first play which BTC have produced digitally and the timescale was tight, with auditions on the 22nd June and the published performance happening just 2 weeks later on the 7th July; however, you wouldn’t be able to tell viewing the production!

The Comedy of Errors can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBXLGkuxy0g

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