“A Comedy of Errors”

Posted on January 18, 2011

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If the drunken Midsumma attendees revelling in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens on Sunday were a case of life imitating art, then Shakespeare is certainly an artist. But if we go beyond the text-book tragedies of our formative years, there’s also a lot of Shakespeare that bears absolutely no resemblance to life… or, probably, to art. Who can forget such and such exiting “chased by a bear”, or Titus Andronicus and the kids in the pie? But these can’t hold a candle to the aptly-named Comedy of Errors (guess the error) which I recently saw for the first time.

The scene at The Botanical Gardens, mucho relaxed and summery…

Now hold on to your my-kingdom-for-a-horses. Let me preface this by saying that I am unashamedly a product of the establishment and hence really, really like Shakespeare. But as with any prolific writer, there are bound to be some that fall through the cracks. And unlike Jane Austen, Shakespeare’s equivalent of Mansfield Park is at least rollicking good fun. But get a load of this:

“Two sets of twins, tragically separated at birth in a ship-wreck…”

So far it sounds like pretty standard fare for Shakespeare. Until you’re like… “Wait, what? TWO sets of twins???” Yeah. Double twins. This is Twelfth Night times two! And not only do they look the same (I smell a hilarious case of mistaken identity!!!) but they each have the same names as well. SAME NAMES. So we have one set of brothers called Antipholus and Antipholus, and another set called Dromio and Dromio.

The twin Dromios

This is just not plausible. No parent would do this. (Hilarious side note: One of the Dromios I saw was played by actor “Syd Brisbane”… so maybe there are parents that do things like that to their children.) I tried to rationalise it: I decided that they were simply referring to the main characters by their surnames. Until I realised that if that were the case, the father of the Antipholuses/Antipholi should be called Antipholus as well. But he’s totally not… his name is Egeon. And all the other male characters are called by their first names too. So in conclusion…wtf.

The particular version I saw was an outdoor performance in the aforementioned Botanic Gardens, on the aforementioned Sunday night. Maybe it was the Midsumma magic in the air, maybe it was the BYO wine… or maybe it was the fact that director Glenn Elston did the only thing he could have done: pulled a Tyra Banks and taken it to the next level. Not only did he absolutely pile on (and nail) all the slapstick which would have accompanied original performances circa 1594, but he also added his own special touch by assigning animals to all the characters. It was like watching an episode of your favourite sitcom played by characters from Sesame Street: Balthazar the dodgy gold merchant is a pirate-accented fish with a peg-leg (put to great use in sword-fighting scenes), his mate Angelo the jeweller is a horse (many laughs when he said “nay”) and both of the Antipholuses were birds with orange mops attached to their feet. Why? Who cares! There was so much crazy going on that we all just cracked open our bottles of wine and rolled with it.

Some of the cast of Comedy of Errors (note: the pirate-fish man on the left..)

Special mention: The programme notes were openly taken from SparkNotes. Good on them… honesty is the best policy after all.

I cannot recommend enough getting a couple of friends together, bringing however many bottles of wine will make you forget to ask questions, and sitting down for a great night in the gardens. The production is on until March 12… plenty of time left.

Wacky stage!!

A Comedy of Errors is showing at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens from 21st December – 12th March from Tuesday-Sunday at  8 pm (or, if you’re feeling romantic, a special Valentine’s Day performance on 14th February). For more information, visit:

http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/rbg-melbourne/whats-on/whats-on/set-dates/special-events/the-comedy-of-errors

or

http://www.australianshakespearecompany.com.au/index.php/theatre-productions/shakespeare-under-the-stars/comedy-of-errors

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Posted in: Events, Theatre