On holiday in France, down near the Dordogne, a couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (in English!) in a village square near where we were staying. Since I already had to write a review for some A-level drama summer work, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to tell you about the production.
The Comedy of Errors Review
In the square of the French Bastide Monpazier, I saw a production of The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare performed by Antic Disposition on Wednesday 10th August 2016. As it was performed outside, immediately, you could see links between the performance conditions today and what it would have been like at the Globe. For example, as it was performed in a square, there was a lot of background noise during the performance much like there would have been when it was first performed.
Before any dialogue started, an opening movement sequence set the scene. A bell was rung in time to the live music to firstly make clear to the audience that this play was set in a hotel. Secondly this helped to make sure the audience were focused on the bell at appropriate points when new characters were being introduced, for example, the two sets of twins. Firstly, we met Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus meaning that when we saw Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse put on the exact same clothes a few seconds later, the audience could see where the mix up might take place. As we had seen the two twins separately beforehand, when they were dressed the same, we could still tell them apart meaning that the story could be told without the audience being too confused. To reiterate that they were twins, later on, director Ben Horslen had the two sets of twins stand back to back showing that they were indeed identical.
Similar to the original performance conditions, there was very little set on the stage. One of the only pieces of set was a door and during act 3 scene 1, a very simple movement of turning it around 180 degrees meant that the entire setting had changed so that one minute, we were on the outside of the room and the next minute, inside. This was very effective because while a split scene would have worked, the audience were only focused on one area of the stage where all the action was taking place rather that two. It also meant that we could see more clearly the interactions between the characters on stage. As the actors were constantly reacting to the audience, it added comedy to this scene. One place I thought it was particularly effective was when Antipholus of Ephesus (played by Alex Hooper) wasn’t allowed into his own home so he turned round and faced one side of the thrust stage, giving this area of the audience an individual reaction. This happened throughout the play meaning that each audience member saw a slightly different performance because not everyone saw exactly the same interactions. This scene also brought out the importance of the class system in this setting. Originally, I thought that the main characters were from the highest class, however, when a woman dressed in an expensive fur coat of the 1920s walked past, they all changed their body language to impress her. All the actors stood up straighter and brought their ridiculous actions to a halt, showing they were conscious not to act immature in front of a woman of a higher class.
Antic Disposition decided to base their production on the film “Some Like it Hot”. One section that particularly mirrored the film was the chase scene that they inserted into act 5. Everything was moving very fast meaning that the audience couldn’t really tell what was going on. For the first time, it was hard to tell the twins apart because they kept moving and you couldn’t really get a good look at them. This confusion added to the comic effect of the rest of the piece and enabled the audience to not worry that they didn’t really understand. Secondly, it was very effective because it linked very closely to the chase scene in “Some Like it Hot” as the same music was played in the background during both. Also, during this scene, one set of Antipholus’ and Dromio’s dressed up as women to try disguise themselves which very closely mirrors the disguise in the film. The reason that having this link throughout the play was so effective was because the majority of the audience were older meaning that they would have seen the film beforehand and would therefore understand the context. Cleverly, director Ben Horslen knew that the average age of his audience would be older due the area of France that his company was touring, meaning that by basing the play on an older film, he would appeal to his audience.
During the play, you could tell that the two Dromio’s and the two Antipholus’ were twins but this wasn’t because they looked identical. The actors who were cast looked similar enough so that they could pass as twins but the audience could still tell the difference. This was essential because otherwise, it wouldn’t have been as funny because even the audience wouldn’t know what was going on. Additionally, the sets of twins were only on stage together right at the beginning and right at the end meaning that it didn’t really matter whether they were identical or not. The actors all used their physicality and mannerisms to make themselves very similar. For example both Keith Higinbotham and Andrew Venning playing the two Dromio’s wore their hats in the same positions on their heads and held their chins pointed down to keep it on in the same way. This was most apparent when the Dromio brothers were attempting to greet each other at the end because it was the first time they were interacting on stage. Both characters had such similar personalities, neither would make a move towards each other. They spoke in the same tone of voice which again helped to make it clear to the audience that these two characters were twins even though they didn’t look exactly the same, adding to the comedy of the errors seen throughout the play.