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The BBC Comedy of Errors with Roger Daltrey. You WILL get fooled again.

February 3, 2017


I’m watching all of these again, because I’m in love with “stagy” Shakespeare adaptations.  I love video as well as film and I like scenery that looks like scenery and above all I’m nostalgic for an age when television drama aspired to the condition of theatre rather than film.

The director, BBC drama stalwart David Cellan Jones, certainly offers conspicuous stagy artifice.  The set is gaudy and geometric and the costumes are deliciously improbable.  The seductive purrs of Charles Gray (campest Blofeld ever) are encased in silver armour of surpassing shininess.  All the women on stage have imposed upon them the kind of impractical cleavage display you’d expect from a Renaissance themed Carry On Movie.  And Ingrid Pitt is sort of wearing something that no self respecting courtesan would ever wear in either the sixteenth or twentieth centuries.

A serious note is struck by the very great Cyril Cusack, who wanders about looking sad throughout the play.   As Aegeon, he has to borrow a ransom within a 24 hour period or his life his forfeit.  Nothing is sadder than Cyril Cusack looking a bit sad and struggling to smile.   However, at times in this production, a serious note is ruined by serious notes.  I cannot bear “appropriate” music on stage, music which merely amplifies a mood suggested by the script, since inflationary mood music evidences a lack of faith in actors and audiences alike.  I have no problem, mind, with “inappropriate music” – music which offers some kind of disruptive or tangential commentary on the script.

In a small role, observe David Kelly.  Also look out for Frank Williams (the vicar out of Dad’s Army) who is armed with a ceremonial twig and presents probably the least effective law enforcement officer you’ve seen in your life.  Geoffrey Rose excels as the doctor/exorcist – a scene stealing role if ever there was one.   Actually scary.

There’s nothing more tedious and false than to claim to have been in a student/amateur production of a play that was actually better than a high profile BBC production but…

I would claim to have been in a student/amateur production of a play that was actually better than a high profile BBC production.

For starters, our twins had different accents.  The boys from Syracuse had Yorkshire accents in London themed Ephesus, and their distrust at “cozening” Ephesus was thereby more plausibly realised.  Our twins were also easier to distinguish as a consequence.

And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Joe Oppenheimer (who has recently been made Head of BBC films oddly enough) was a better Dromio (Dromii) than Roger Daltrey.  And I know what I’m talking about because I was standing next to him for much of the time.  Joe was not just funny, but engaging – not just a clown, but a resilient charmer, able to withstand multiple beatings and get by on his wits in a hostile world.  There was a lot of love in the house for Joe.  The final scene where the Dromii join hands on terms of blessed equality is genuinely moving.  All in all, Comedy of Errors is the closest thing in the Shakespearean canon to being a play with a working class hero.

Michael Kitchen’s Antipholi are more easily distinguished from one another than Daltrey’s Dromii, with different voices being applied to each.   Daltrey’s Dromii are indistinguishable.  Kitchen has perhaps the easier task because Antipholus of Syracuse is more unlike Antipholus of Ephesus than Dromio of Syracuse is unlike Dromio of Ephesus.  Antipholus of Ephesus is a retributive and abusive arsehole.

We had a delicious cast for our production, as well as some additional business of our own which we enjoyed, even if the reviewer didn’t.

For example, it occured to us (OK it occurred to me), that the “chain” bestowed upon and disavowed by each of the Antipholi would be a lot funnier if it was re-imagined as a complicated piece of bondage-wear.

I was right.

It was a lot funnier.

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