Bard on the Beach
The Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare

Dates and Venues 10 June - 26 September 2009 at 8pm Tues - Sun | Vanier Park, Mainstage tent

Director David Mackay Costume Designer Mara Gottler Lighting Designer Gerald King Sound Designer Murray Price Choreography Melissa Young Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay

Reviewer John Jane

An acclaimed Shakespeare dramaturg, Michael Flachmann once observed that the essential difference between comedy and tragedy is timing. The well-worn sight gag of identical twins creating havoc and confusion through misidentification has been used with varying degrees of comic effect in film and theatre since William Shakespeare (or was it Plautus) first originated the ruse in one of his earliest works, The Comedy of Errors.

In Comedy, much of its successful staging depends on bizarre circumstances and preposterous coincidence. Director David Mackay handles this antediluvian romp and makes it a broadly entertaining whimsical play with clever precise pacing.

Set in Shakespeare’s own time, (the immortal Bard even makes an un-credited cameo appearance) two sets of twin brothers, one pair availing as servants to the other pair, none of whom are aware of the other’s existence. Just to make it doubly confusing, each twin shares the identical name of his brother (when you think about it, it’s the only way this play can work).

All of them were separated as infants during a shipwreck many years earlier. Antipholi and Dromios of Syracuse appear in Ephesus where the other Antipholi and Dromios already reside. Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse and the father of the Antipholi boys is in Ephesus in search of his offspring, but no Free Trade Agreement exists between Syracuse and its rival city. When Egeon is caught within Ephesus’s city limits he is arrested and sentenced to death by the stern, yet just Duke Solinus (played with flamboyant abandon by Christopher Gaze). The noble Duke remits the sentence pending the payment of a fine upon hearing his pitiful tale.

Consistent with the oddball nature of farce comedy, the brothers are never quite in the same place at the same time, and so are never able to consider their resemblance with the opposite twin. Missteps and blunders abound but all comes well in the end with all the loose ends neatly tied up.

Shawn Macdonald and Ryan Beil might even pass for real brothers, which from the audience point of view only adds to the imbroglio. As the Dromios they run errand after errand for their masters without ever managing to get it right. Together, they bear much of the brunt of the physical comedy; each of them receiving the blame for the other’s folly.

BOTB regulars Colleen Wheeler as Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife Adriana, and Jennifer Lines as her unmarried sister Luciana do a stellar job providing the 'lust interest' (Adriana’s inability to discern the difference between her husband and his brother demands some suspension of disbelief).

Neil Maffin as Egeon is charged with the play’s only serious role and somehow manages to retain his dramatic cachet. Kevin MacDonald is exceptional as the benevolent Antipholi - a perfect counterpoint to Bob Frazer’s bluster and false bravado as the malevolent Antipholi.

In a perverse way, Mara Gottler’s extravagant clothing is a paramount feature of this production. The exaggerated Elizabethan styling of Christopher Gaze’s garish costume draws almost as many guffaws as his lines.

For Bard purists, this mounting of Comedy may not be easy to watch. The comedy ranges from sublime humour to outrageous slap-stick with a twist of off-the-wall Pyhonesque. But hey, it’s not called The Tragedy of Errors.

© 2009 John Jane