Last year Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre brought us Merry Wives of Windsor. Before that they brought Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure and Love’s Labour’s Lost. No serious Shakespeare yet. For that, we had to depend on Theatre for a New Audience’s Merchant of Venice starring F. Murray Abraham. It’s not that the Shakespeare Globe Theatre doesn’t do those plays (I saw Antony and Cleopatra starring Mark Rylance as Cleopatra) but so far they haven’t seen fit to share those. Whether they feel Americans can’t understand these plays or that the casts are too large remains pure conjecture. However, what they do share with us are some delightful productions of some of the Comedies.
This year the show is The Comedy of Errors. It features a cast of eight, doubling most of the roles. Duncan Wisbey plays Angelo and the Duke. Cornelius Boot is both Dr. Pinch and Egeon. A very amusing doubling is Emma Pallant as the Abbess and the Courtesan. Sophie Scott plays various merchants. Fergal McElherron plays both Dromios and Bill Buckhurst both Antipholuses; and they accomplish this mainly with hats and glasses as well as a change in stature, voice, and attitude. They do this masterfully. Laura Rodgers is Adriana and Dana Gartland is Luciana. Most of the cast also plays some sort of instrument.
This tale of merry mix-up is based on the Greek play The Twin Menaechmi, which was also the source of the musical The Boys From Syracuse. Most of the time different actors play these parts (both the Dromios and Antipholi are twins, separated at birth). But Comedy of Errors is one of those Shakespeare plays that directors feel free to meddle with; plus, doubling is both theatrical and economical. For the most part all this doubling works because the actors and director Rebecca Gatward have come up with some ingenious and often hilarious ways to pull it off. I was less thrilled with the solution at the end but therein lies the problem with this doubling. With everyone rushing about doing transformations, the focus is drawn away from the central story of the two sets of twins and their reuniting with their parents and each other. As a result, the story can get a bit muddled for the uninitiated. But I say keep these productions coming. The Brits have a way with the language and understand the relationships and culture better than most. The Comedy of Errors plays at the Broad Stage until November 27.