Review: Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare's Globe

I'll cheerfully admit to only having a hazy familiarity with the play (it's the one with twins that isn't 12th Night, and with the shipwreck which isn't Tempest, and with the annoyed money-lender which isn't Merchant of Venice... wait... perhaps I have seen it in aggregate!)

On the one hand, this is an entirely traditional production. Sumptuous Elizabethan clothing - with resplendent codpieces - live minstrels, and plenty of chatting up the audience. And, in other ways it is delightfully modern. Some of the men are - hold your hats - played by women! What would the Lord Chamberlain say?

I'm not a fan of the phrase "colour-blind casting", but I can't think of a better way to describe the diversity of the talented individuals who make up the cast. Indeed, the phrase is inaccurate - the two Antipholuses are specifically cast to look as close to each other as possible. How similar? About three-quarters of the way through the play, the chap behind me loudly exclaimed "Oh! He's not the same guy? They're twins! I get it!" Brilliant!

Sadly, George Fouracres was ill, so we were treated to a substitute player. The Globe doesn't have understudies, so David Ijiti bravely took to the stage script-in-hand to turn in a stellar performance as Dromio of Ephesus. David Ijiti is black and Jordan Metcalfe who plays his twin is as pale as the moon. Can an audience suspend their disbelief for two hours that these men are brothers? Of course! That's the magic of theatre - once you've convinced your brain that people speaking in iambic pentameter is normal, what's one more thing? Of course, their incongruous pairing only heightens the comedy. Ijiti rightly received rapturous applause from the audience.

As I said, it is rather a traditional staging. It's not set in space, the cast aren't all dressed as cats, and there's no pretence that we're anywhere other than an open-air theatre by the Thames. And that leads me to wonder about how the play must have been received throughout the centuries. It surprised me how intensely feminist the play is - for the most part. Adriana rants about her no-good wandering husband, how he has spurned her, and how women are powerless against the men they love. She has this delightful exchange with her sister:

Luciana: A man is master of his liberty:
    Time is their master, and, when they see time,
    They'll go or come: if so, be patient, sister.

Adriana: Why should their liberty than ours be more?

And yet... Act 3 treats us to a parade of fat-phobic jokes:

Antipholus of Syracuse. How dost thou mean a fat marriage?

Dromio of Syracuse. Marry, sir, she's the kitchen wench and all grease;

Dromio then goes on for a scene-stealing turn describing just how corpulent and repulsive, sweaty and lusty, smelly and disfigured the poor woman is. The problem is, it's very funny. As are the cheap jibes about bald men. As are... well, look, it's a Shakespearean comedy. He takes the piss out of everyone.

The Globe's website offers this content warning:

Content guidance: The play contains themes of misogyny, racism and offensive language. Please contact the ticketing team if you would like further details on the play’s content.

Which is fair enough. People go to be entertained, not to be confronted with uncomfortable or offensive scenarios.

It's an excellent production. Wisely, it sticks to a two-hour running time with no interval. That keeps the pace up and doesn't let your backside go too numb on the wooden benches.


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