THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
08/06/2013 - 15/06/2013
Confusion. Chaos. Comedy.
Antipholus and his servant Dromio are well known residents of the town of Ephesus. But another Antipholus and his servant Dromio have just arrived, from Syracuse…
Two sets of twins – separated at birth – come together in the same city. Shakespeare puts his signature spin on a classical comedy structure, setting the stage for a myriad of mishaps, mistaken identities and general madness. Watch the snowball of circumstances roll through Ephesus and grow to epic comic proportions.
Join Unitec’s Year 3 acting students as they combine elements of commedia dell’arte, clowning and slapstick with a healthy heaping of confusion and chaos to serve up a superb Shakespearean comedy soufflé.
Venue: Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert
Comedy of Errors Show Dates: 8,11,13,15 June 7pm
Running time: 90min approx.
Performed by Unitec’s third year actors
Tickets: now on sale at iTICKET.co.nz (09) 361 1000.
Lori Wallace - Dromio of Ephesus
Josh Booth - Angelo/Courtezan/First Merchant
Alex Jordan – Adriana
Boni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho - Balthazar/Abyss/Officer/Dr Pinch
Tessa Jensen - Antipholus of Ephesus
Jex Moore – Luciana
Mel Bailey - Antipholus of Syracuse
Jessie Lawrence - Dromio of Syracuse
Aymee Karaitiana - Aegeon/Second Merchant
Amy Atkinson - Duke of Ephesus/Servant
Review by Lexie Matheson 10th Jun 2013
Not to beat about the bush, this production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors isShakespeare at its absolute, charismatic best. The fact that it is performed by students half way through the final year of their training speaks volumes for the opportunities these young actors have been given by the UNITEC School of Performing and Screen Arts under the curriculum leadership of John G Davies and his team over the past thirty months. It’s quite simply astounding.
When all the components of exquisite performance come together there is nothing better on the planet and I would have wished to be nowhere else last evening but seated with a bunch of like-minded Shakespeare devotees in the UNITEC Theatre being absolutely blown away by a totally brilliant presentation of one of Shakespeare’s most thorny works.
Jacque Drew and her ‘troupe of base and common fellows’ are so on their game that we tangibly feel they know they have a winner on their hands and they simply run with it, confident that the structure, the devices, the design, their own talent and craft, the rehearsal process and the simple joy of performing will carry them over, around and through their audience like a giant wave of luscious and lascivious enchantment.
Yes, it is that good. It is as though, as the Duke suggests in an attempt to explain the confusion wrought by the two sets of twins and the subsequent elaborate chaos, we have all ‘drunk of Circe’s cup’(1) and become bewitched by some potion that spiked our pre-show coffee.
It’s not, of course. It is just a perfect example of what happens when all the work is done, and done so well that little or nothing can possibly go wrong. The concept is great, the venue ideal, the designs perfect, the actors tuned and fit to deliver, all led by a director who knows exactly where she is going and why, and who can inspire her team to go with her.
When Antipholus of Syracuse expresses his fears about the people of Ephesus by warning that the
town is full of cozenage,
As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin(2)
– he might well have been instructing Drew and her design team as to how the show should look and feel.
Drew’s excellent programme Foreword sums it up perfectly. She says “we have drawn from a variety of comic forms – Commedia, clown, Vaudeville, musicals, stand-up, sit-coms and silent movies. We’ve watched Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Singin’ in the Rain, The Simpsons and much, much more. We’d like to hope we are offering a little something for everyone – just as Shakespeare did. We’ve got a clever and classic text, an unhinged, circus-cabaret cast, tied up with a big Bollywood bow. Enjoy.”
Unhinged indeed – and in the very best possible tradition of Vaudeville, Commedia, clown and cabaret.
The costuming (Kelli Prince) and set (Natasha Pearl) are divine and exquisitely workable. A two level, centre-stage, square scaffolding structure with looped ceiling sails, all of which is lit low from the sides, makes for a great circus look. But even this, which is striking enough, pales beside what the performers achieve with mind, body and voice alone. The physicality is amazing, the acrobatic use of the structure jaw-droppingly good and the management of props and the detritus of performance is energizing – but more of that later.
While it’s not possible to date the writing of the play exactly, topical references to wars of succession in France place it somewhere in the late 16th century while Charles Whitworth in his ‘Introduction to The Comedy of Errors’ (Whitworth, 2002) narrows the date of Shakespeare’s authorship down to 1594 despite the text not being formally published until the First Folio went to press in 1623. (3) The first recorded performance of the play is dated 28 December, 1594 and took place at Gray’s Inn Hall. Popular scholarship places The Comedy of Errors fifth in the canon between Richard III and Titus Andronicus and after the three Henry IV’s which, if correct, would make it Shakespeare’s very first comedy.
As became the norm for The Bard, Shakespeare borrowed much of his plot from the Romans and in particular from two of Plautus’ plays where the concept of sets of twins with the same names is first explored. There are many references to the Bible as well, the most notable being, predictably, from Saint Paul’s Letters to the Ephesians.
The plot is anything but simple.
Aegeon, an aging merchant of Syracuse, pops across to Ephesus to search for his wife and son Antipholus, one of twins from whom he was parted by a standard Shakespearean device, a shipwreck, twenty-five years previously, and his servant, also a twin, called Dromio. The homeboy twin, oddly enough also called Antipholus, has lived with Aegeon for all twenty-five years and, like his missing brother, has a servant called Dromio, a twin to the other of the same name. Unfortunately for Aegeon, Syracusians are not welcome in Ephesus and, finding himself captured, he is sentenced to death by the Duke who gives him a way out of his dilemma by way of a 1000 mark fine which, of course, he cannot pay. The Duke then generously delays the executing of the sentence for one day when he hears Aegeon’s tragic story.
To ensure we know who is who, Shakespeare calls one of the sons Antipholus of Syracuse and the other Antipholus of Ephesus and he does the same with the brace of Dromios – just for the sake of lucidity. It helps not a jot.
Unknown to Aegeon, his son, Antipholus of Syracuse, and Dromio, his servant, are also in Ephesus where the long lost son lives as a well-heeled burgher. Confusion reigns until a chance meeting brings the family members together and there ensues a happy ending for all.
In her Acknowledgements Drew makes special mention of Circus Contraptionfor allowing the use of their excellent music which includes the use of The Illusory Gentleman’s cover of Circus Contraption’s Acrophelia’s Lament.The choice is inspiring and sets a tone that the performers match at every turn.
I alluded earlier to the complete yet simple nature of this theatre experience which is anchored in a deep understanding of the narrative and a wonderful ability on the part of the performers to make perfect sense of the text while ripping through it at a million miles an hour. Almost all the performers are on stage all of the time except when the circumlocutory nature of the narrative requires them not to be. This means there is a constant sense of the play being watched from within which adds to both the fun and the richness of the work.
Costume changes happen in full view of the audience, as does the unravelling of the plot. Moustaches appear and disappear, hats are donned, doffed and discarded, gender is dispensed with and all with a confidence and aplomb that is simply mind-boggling. It’s a performer’s piece and each member of this ten-strong company is prodigiously talented, magnificently trained and certainly knows how to work.
Alex Jordan’s black-clad and silver-studded Adriana is a bad tempered, foot-stomping, paddy throwing delight. Her sister Luciana (Jex Moore), on the other hand, is a soft and languid, sexy vision in spearmint, and each beautifully fulfils the role of romantic foil for their twin beaux.
Josh Booth is equally impressive as the first merchant, Angelo the goldsmith, and a deliciously demure Courtesan, while also providing a centrepiece for the knockabout tumbling that is part and parcel of this excellent production.
Aymee Karaitiana plays the critical role of Aegeon, the aging Dad of the two Antipholae, and does so with splendid showmanship; and her second merchant is a particular delight.
Mel Bailey plays Antipholus of Syracuse superbly. It’s worth noting here that the twinning is done by means of identical (well, almost) costuming, and identical (well, almost) mustachios, and it’s a most effective device. Bailey looks sartorially elegant and plays Antipholus of Syracuse with a gauche openness that makes the mistaken identity theme really work.
Tessa Jensen plays Bailey’s twin, Antipholus of Ephesus, with a limpid ease. She lopes and twists her way through an especially intelligent reading of the text.
Jessie Lawrence is fabulous as the servant Dromio of Syracuse. The relationship between Lawrence and Bailey is especially strong and the crucial nature of their double act is noteworthy.
Lori Wallace plays the final twin, Dromio of Ephesus, servant and acolyte of Antipholus of Ephesus, with a confidence and composure that can only come from absolute trust, substantial craft and talent. Jensen and Wallace, as with Lawrence and Bailey, have been perfectly cast as the Ephesian sidekicks and anyone with half a brain knows that theatrical success invariably beings with outstanding casting.
I’ve left two performances until last, not because they’re the best – it’s impossible, and would be churlish, to separate such excellence – but because each brings a singular, unique and essentially different texture to the production.
Boni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho plays Balthazar, Pinch, the police officer and the Abbess quite brilliantly. He creates four wonderfully true yet completely diverse Commedia characters and allows the production to ooze after him into these darker and more multifarious areas of the psyche. Tukiwaho has wonderful comic timing and a physical intensity that lends itself to these roles and his Abbess contributes to the economic winding up of the plot elements quite exceptionally well.
Despite this being a team of extremely capable young physical actors it is through the characters created by Amy-Kate Atkinson that we come closest to the circus of the mind and in particular those aspect s of circus life that we find most fascinating. Her Duke of Ephesus serves the play well and her servant turns up at all the right times and does the business but it’s her tumbling and acrobatic prowess that, at times, leaves the audience gasping with shock and surprise. Often used with others to link scenes, Atkinson cements the style of the show into a netherworld performance milieu that we can only wonder at and which would not have been out of place in P.T. Barnum’s Travelling World’s Fair.
In many ways the scene which resolves the plot is the hardest of all but in the hands of these young speedsters it’s brought to an end with absolute clarity and in the nick of time, allowing Dromio of Ephesus to observe as he leaves:
methinks you are my glass, and not my brother:
I see by you I am a sweet-fac’d youth
– and who would be boorish enough to argue with that. (4)
In conclusion, if you are one of those who bemoan the demise of a good curtain call then you must see A Comedy of Errors if for no other reason than because this company has turned the curtain call back into an art form. It’s quite simply spectacular and alone worth the price of your ticket and that of your friend.
So, if you’re feeling a tad disillusioned with the theatre – or with anything really – see The Comedy of Errors. It will restore your faith in everything.
Act 5, scene 1, line 271
The Comedy of Errors: Act 1, scene 2, lines 97-102
Whitworth, Charles, ed. Introduction toThe Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, pp. 1-79. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
The Comedy of Errors: Act 5, scene 1, lines 417-8
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