The Comedy of Errors
1978: Philip Casson
This is almost certainly the oddest of the productions I’ve reviewed of this odd, farcical, and early play, but it’s worth seeing. It embraces the music-hall dimension of the play by setting it in the heyday of such productions (ca. 1900) and by turning it into a musical. It is, as most musicals are, punctuated intermittently by songs and dancing. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it won some prizes for the best musical of its year.
It’s hard to see why: frankly I found the music tepid, the lyrics repetitive and dull, and the singing below average. These are not normally musical forces at work, and they’re not very impressive. That’s a subjective opinion, though, and your mileage, as they say, may vary.
As a representation of the play, it really isn’t half bad, though. In some musicals (e.g., My Fair Lady or most of Sondheim’s oeuvre), the musical numbers are critical in advancing the unfolding of the story. In others, (e.g., most Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals with the possible exception of Carousel), the music is lodged at a stopping point in the story to underscore some more or less static emotional state or witty point. When that has been completed, the story resumes. This is distinctly of the second sort: while the music isn’t, to my way of thinking, especially good, neither does it intrude much upon the play, nor is it really required to move the narrative from one point to another. Hence we have a fairly straightforward performance of The Comedy of Errors packed around and among these musical numbers (relatively few of them). It doesn’t need to be a musical, in other words, but the music doesn’t overly get in the way.
The play is the purest farce that Shakespeare ever wrote, and those who created this production don’t try to make it something it’s not. It’s very stagy, full of prat-falls and physical abuse — a kind of Punch and Judy aesthetic. In something else, that would probably be annoying; here, it’s just part of the show. That’s what the play mostly requires. There is a lot of play with visual humor, and it’s amusing without being in the slightest challenging.
The film brings together some of the luminaries of the RSC at the time — Judi Dench, Mike Gwilym, Roger Rees, and Nickolas Grace among them. Harry Potter viewers may recognize the (heavily garbed but much slimmer) Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley) as the officer who is constantly arresting various people. If you look quickly, you can see Cherie Lunghi as well, but I don’t think she has any lines except as part of the choral forces.
All in all, this is probably not worth going very far out of your way to see, but it’s not bad, and some of its visual humor is uniquely well-realized.
This one is not, to the best of my knowledge, available in a region 1 DVD format, but it is available in the British (European) region 2 format. If you have a region 2 player or a region-free player, therefore, you should be able to play it. It will not play on most American DVD players, however.
’Tiger’ Waiter: Tim Brierley
Adriana: Judi Dench
Aegeon: Griffith Jones
Aemelia: Marie Kean
Angelo: Paul Brooke
Antipholus of Ephesus: Mike Gwilym
Antipholus of Syracuse: Roger Rees
Balthasar: Norman Tyrrell
Courtesan: Barbara Shelley
Dr. Pinch: Robin Ellis
Dromio of Ephesus: Nickolas Grace
Dromio of Syracuse: Michael Williams
Duke: Brian Coburn
Ephesus Townsperson: Cherie Lunghi
Ephesus Townsperson: David Lyon
Ephesus Townsperson: Dev Sagoo
Ephesus Townsperson: Frances Viner
Ephesus Townsperson: John Bown
Ephesus Townsperson: Leon Tanner
Ephesus Townsperson: Leonard Preston
Ephesus Townsperson: Paul Moriarty
Ephesus Townsperson: Paul Shelley
Ephesus Townsperson: Richard Durden
Luce: Susan Dury
Luciana: Francesca Annis
Merchant: Keith Taylor
Nell: Meg Davies
Officer: Richard Griffiths
Porpentine Proprieter: Jacob Witkin
‘Porpentine’ Girl: Bobbie Brown
‘Porpentine’ Girl: Marjorie Bland
‘Porpentine’ Girl: Pippa Guard
‘Porpentine’ Waiter: Paul Whitworth
‘Porpentine’ Waiter: Peter Woodward