Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A Comedy of Errors - Mistaken Identities

While I have seen this play before, but then again that is pretty much stating the obvious when it comes to the more popular Shakesperian plays, this was the first time that I saw it in a more traditional sense. Sure, the last version that I watched was fairly traditional, sort of, but this version was much, much more farcical, at least as far as I can remember. Okay, I might not have been cracking out laughing, but despite having had a long day, and feeling a little exhausted by the time I had arrived at the theatre, this version just had this ability to really pick me up and draw my into the action - then again a good Shakespearean performance, particularly a comedy, is certainly going to have some audience participation.

The last version that I saw was a version by the Bell Shakespeare Company, and honestly, I am sort of getting sick of their productions, particularly since they are becoming ever more experimental. In fact, a part of me feels that one is starting to stretch the definition when it comes down to describing them as Shakespeare, if their last production is anything to go buy (and since it was Julius Caeser, I could say that they basically butchered one of my favourite plays).

Sure, the plays executed themselves the way the plot unfolds however this one was much, much more amusing. The Bell version had a backdrop of a very seedy city, that happened to be Ephesus, whereas here the suggestion was that the setting was in the Ottoman Empire. Okay, that put me off a bit namely because I always was of the impression that the story was set back during the Roman times, namely because the cities of Ephesus and Syracuse no longer exist. However, one cannot be too harsh, particularly since I'm not entirely sure Shakespeare would have been all that particular when it came to costumes.

So, let us get down the the plot - basically the background is that this man was on a ship with his wife, who was heavily pregnant. She ended up giving birth to twins, and then the servant also gave birth to twins. Well, the ship had a mishap in that it hit a rock and split in two, and basically everybody was separated - in particular the twins. However, they were rescued but remained ignorant of each other's existence. So, this is what is explained to the duke (or should we say Pasha, since it was supposed to be the Ottoman Empire), namely because this man had arrived in Ephesus, however since he had come from Syracuse, and Ephesus and Syracuse were at war, he was captured, put in prison, and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Antiphonus and his servant Dromio arrive in Ephesus, and are immediately warned to be careful since it is clear that they have come from Syracuse, and the problem is that the duke is not all that happy with the Syracusians, so it would be best if they hide their identities. Little beknownst to them, there also happens to be an Antiphonus, and Dromio, living in Ephesus. In fact, they are twins, it is just that neither knows of the other's existence. As such, the stage is literally set for what is going to be two and a half hours of mistaken identities.

Look, this isn't anything that Shakespeare conjured off the top of his head, namely because the whole idea was borrowed from the Roman playwright Plautus - namely he Machimanus Twins. However, as is the case with Shakespeare, he adds a lot more to the story so that it really begins to shine with his brilliance and style. Okay, I've made numerous comments in the past about how unoriginal Shakespeare happens to be, but the problem is that Shakespeare is a far cry from a Hollywood director. Sure, I've been one of those critics, however the thing is that not only has his plays managed to survive and remain within our conscious memory, but they have gone as far as to become a part of the Western Canon.

One of the things that stood out with this play was simply how farcical the whole thing was, so the company that performed it hammed it up to no end. In fact having a couple of musicians sitting at the back of the stage just added to charm of the production. This was also one of those productions where the instruments were also used to produce sound effects - such as when people punched, kicked, and slapped others. This means that as well as being a farce, it is also could be considered slapstick, which is something that the previous version seemed to lack. Then again, Bell Shakespeare does seem to be a lot more serious with their productions than this particular group, which is probably why I liked it so much better.

The thing is that having twins that not only have the exact same name, but their servants also having the exact same name, is ridiculous, but I guess this is the nature of Shakespeare's plays. The ironic thing is that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of stage direction either, so in many cases it is basically left up the the producers to use their imagination, and I guess this is where the creativity comes in. Okay, we should remember that since this is one of Shakespeare's comedy's, none of the character's die. Well, not quite though I'm not entirely sure if the execution scene at the beginning of the play is actually in the play.

Of course, we have the fact that Antiphonus of Ephesus is actually married, so of course when his wife sees Antiphonus of Syracuse, she automatically thinks that it is her husband. Well, he's a little baffled, but does end up playing along with it, which leads to the situation where her husband suddenly discovers that he is locked out of her house, and no matter how hard they try, they simply cannot bust through the door. Then of course, we have confusion over gold chains, money that seems to have gone missing, and the fact that both parties miss each other by minutes, or even seconds. Of course, like a lot of Shakespeare's plays, there is the big reveal at the end, which it becomes blindingly obvious what was going on, and suddenly everything now makes sense - though of course we knew it all along, it is just none of the characters did.

The interesting thing is that there is also this generalised statement that at the end of a Shakespearian tragedy everybody dies, which at the end of a comedy everybody gets married. This isn't the case here. Then again, that is basically one of those broad sweeping statements that doesn't apply in all situations. The other thing is that this is one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, so it seems to lack the depth and the insight that some of his later plays invoke, such as the contrasts between the city and the country. Instead, what we have here is simply a tale of confusion that seems to be sending everybody completely insane, until they realise what is actually going on. 

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A Comedy of Errors - Mistaken Identities by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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