The Comedy of Errors

19th to 22nd June 2024

William Shakespeare | Maple Hayes Hall, Lichfield | Directed by Chris Stanley

Lichfield forest glade transforms into ancient Greece in absurdist take on Shakespeare’s early farcical comedy.

‘Shakespeare in the Park’ has become a highlight of Lichfield’s cultural calendar: previous productions date back to 1983. This year’s outdoor offering, ‘The Comedy of Errors’, is a riotous romp bursting with bewilderment in the beautiful grounds of Maple Hayes Hall.

Outdoor productions bring something different to the theatrical experience and suit Shakespeare particularly well. There’s something magical about perching on a hay bale to watch a performance and under Chris Stanley’s direction, this production is the perfect summer treat: light, ridiculous, throwaway fun.  

The ludicrous plot would not be out of place in a carry-on film. Unusually for Shakespeare, everything happens in one place on one day. Two sets of long-separated identical twins, both helpfully called Antipholus, provide the basis for a series of unlikely events in Ephesus: mistaken identity and confusion abound. To add to the mix, their respective servants also share the same name: Dromio. What could possibly go wrong?

Director Chris Stanley explains the decision to cast just one actor to play both Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus and one actor to play both Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus. “I came up with the idea of using masks, initially as a device to help with identifying or distinguishing the twins. But almost immediately, I realised that the concept fitted really nicely with the play’s commedia dell’arte influences – and also with the ‘ancient Greece’ vibe that I had long ago decided I wanted as the setting for the play,” He agrees it’s stretching it a bit but the gamble on alternating blue and yellow masks pays off and it works, helping the audience to understand who’s who and leaning nicely into the absurdness of the plot.

Connor Brooks ranges from exasperated and angry to weary and lonely in the double roles of Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Shakespeare’s verse is delivered with an easy naturalism and there’s excellent chemistry with Shane Harper, doubling as both Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus. Harper brings the required comic timing to the roles in performances of great physicality, often running breathless around the forest and reappearing with a different coloured mask. The masks mean we lose facial expressions and feel less connected at times, but the characters in this play are not fully rounded or psychologically plausible so it works. The breakneck pace of farce is maintained throughout with various residents of Ephesus on and off stage in an almost constant stream of misunderstandings.

Ellie Galvin and Abigail Skidmore put in impressive performances as Adriana and Luciana, wife of Antipholus of Syracuse and her sister. There’s a convincing bond between the siblings which grows stronger as the confusion mounts and the men are challenged for supposed or attempted infidelities. In a strong cast, Eliza del Cisne stands out as furious cockney goldsmith Angelo and there’s excellent visual comedy from Holly Rice’s filthy arse-scratching kitchen wench Nell.

The challenge of staging the play’s conclusion, in which siblings and servants are reunited, is neatly handled and the curtain call to ‘Zorba the Greek’ rounds off an evening of poetic farcical frenzy perfectly. Highly recommended.

Shakespeare in the Park’s outdoor production of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ is playing at Maple Hayes Hall in Lichfield from 19th to 22nd June 2024.