The Comedy of Errors

 

Michael Kitchen appears as The Antipholi, a set of long-separated twins, in The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare.

Transmission:

1983

Commercial availability:

DVD

Reviews/Press:

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Reviews & Interviews


The Comedy of Errors, Starring Roger Daltrey
The New York Times; February 20, 1984; John J. OConnor

PUBLIC television's ''Shakespeare Plays'' project finally gets around tonight, on WNET-TV, Channel 13, at 8, to ''The Comedy of Errors,'' one of the earliest - some scholars would say the first - of his works for the stage. It is a short play. It is occasionally an exasperating play. In fact, it is something of a piffle.

The plot was taken from two plays by Plautus, primarily the Roman writer's ''Menaechmi.'' Twin brothers find themselves trapped in a whirligig of mistaken identities. Shakespeare, of course, added his own distinctive touches, most notably having the brothers accompanied by twin servants, thereby doubling the confusion. For no terribly convincing reason, each master is named Antipholus while each servant is called Dromio.

The play opens on a somber note. Elderly Aegeon, from Syracuse, is being sentenced to death because he has wandered into Ephesus territory, forbidden to Syracusans, in search of his long-lost twin sons. His story touches the Duke of Ephesus but the law is the law. However, he is granted time until sundown to look for his boys. Meanwhile, Antipholus of Syracuse is arriving in Ephesus with his Dromio, the two having no idea that their twin brothers live there. The machinery is thus set in motion for a series of baffling encounters with wives, lovers and assorted merchants.

Publicity photo The humor of ''The Comedy of Errors'' is broad, and the play lends itself readily to gimmickry. In a Stratford-on-Avon production several years ago, for instance, the lead characters were dressed in the baggy pants and outsized red noses of clowns. In one of its best adaptations, the work emerged as a Broadway musical in 1938 (and was revived in 1963). A lovely score by Rodgers and Hart, and a book by George Abbott helped matters considerably.

The BBC, also, is not above an occasional gimmick. For the double role of Dromio in this production, Sean Sutton, the current executive producer of the series, has recruited Roger Daltrey, lead singer of the rock group the Who. Lest anyone forget, press kits for the broadcast are devoted primarily to the presence of Mr. Daltrey and, in a preface to the production, the 39-year-old singer is briefly seen performing with the Who and then, in an interview, explaining how dreadful Shakespeare seemed when he was in school with uninmaginative teachers - ''like having a tooth pulled.''

Indeed, Mr. Daltrey, who does have some acting experience in films, does a more than creditable job with the two Dromios (the electronic wizardry of television techniques makes the doubling factor look easy). His Dromio with Antipholus of Syracuse is a fairly pleasant chap having a close relationship with his kindly master. His Dromio of Ephesus is more of a simpering fool, constantly being boxed on the ears by his master. Mr. Daltrey, thickening his own natural West London accent, certainly captures the music and sense of Shakespeare's words. He may not turn your average rock fan into a Bard enthusiast, especially as tonight's television competition for the play includes ''Super Night of Rock 'n' Roll'' on NBC, but his participation can't hurt.

Also not hurting is the presence of a cast that, as far as most British television is concerned, is typically accomplished. Michael Kitchen deftly handles the dual roles of Antipholus. And three veteran actors are on hand to deliver the long set speeches that open and close the play: Cyril Cusack as Aegeon, Charles Gray as the Duke, and Dame Wendy Hiller as the Abbess. Other outstanding contributions are made by Susan Bertish, Joanne Pearce, David Kelly and Geoffrey Rose.

James Cellan Jones, the director whose previous television credits include ''The Forsyte Saga'' and ''Jennie - Lady Randolph Churchill,'' rather cleverly stresses the more ominous aspects of the play. The mistaken identities at times take on the frightening ramifications of a total loss of identity. His Ephesus is peopled with magicians, fortunetellers and conjurers. None of this is heavy-handed. It is merely noted in passing, and turns out to be effective. Don Homfray's inventive designs and June Hudson's costumes also help to make the play seem more than a relative trifle in the Shakespeare repertory.

Comedy in Error?
The Radio Times; 17-30 December, 1983; Henry Fenwick