Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
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All’s Well That Ends Well
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As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
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Much Ado About Nothing
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Richard II
Richard III
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The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1978: Philip Casson

1983: James Cellan Jones

1989: Richard Monette


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