The Comedy of Errors 2011

Antipholus of Syracuse Dan Winter and Sea Captain & Dr Pinch Jack Bannell  (Photo: Farrows Creative) 

Director’s Note

 This production opened at the Tobacco Factory on 24th March and played there until 30th April. It then immediately transferred for a two-week season at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, where the main stage was transformed into an in-the-round space.

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's early plays, and may have been his first comedy. It is based on a play by Plautus - Menaechmi – and demonstrates Shakespeare's familiarity with Roman comedy, studied and acted out (in Latin) in all good boys' grammar schools in Elizabethan England.
   What this classical background, and the intricacies of its farcical plotting, have tended to disguise is how integral the play is to Shakespeare’s later work, how it explores themes that will remain with him to the end of his career – estrangement, both physical and emotional, the loss of siblings, parents, children, husbands and wives, whether by chance (so often by shipwreck) or by murderous jealousy; these recur and develop, through Twelfth Night and As You Like It to Othello, King Lear, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.
   The presence of the sea, and the confusion created by two sets of identical twins are central to this play. Though Shakespeare was an inland boy, the imagery of the sea is always powerful in his work; the sense of its vastness and its capacity to erase human life from the physical record, leaving only a torturing absence in the ‘tablet’ of memory. And he was himself the father of twins, a boy Hamnet and a girl Judith. Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of 11 - after the composition of The Comedy of Errors but before Twelfth Night, the play which reunites the twins Viola and Sebastian after they have both believed the other to be lost at sea.
   The Comedy of Errors is the beginning of one of dramatic literatures’s great thematic journeys. Andrew Hilton

The Cast

Duke of Ephesus Paul Currier
Egeon & Balthasar David Collins
Officer Craig Fuller 
Dromio of Syracuse Richard Neale
Sea Captain & Dr Pinch Jack Bannell
Antipholus of Syracuse Dan Winter
Dromio of Ephesus Gareth Kennerley
Antipholus of Ephesus Matthew Thomas
Angelo, a goldsmith Alan Coveney
Courtesan Kate Kordel
Adriana Dorothea Myer-Bennett
Luciana Ffion Jolly
Ginn Holly Mckinlay 
Merchant Doron Davidson
Abbess Nicky Goldie

In Exeter the role of the Officer was taken by Tom Sherman, and the role of Ginn by Sophie Howard


Director Andrew Hilton
Edition & Lyrics Dominic Power
Assistant Director Rosy Banham
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer & Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Lighting Designer Matthew Graham
Fight Director Peter Clifford
Production Photographer Toby Farrow

Production Manager Chris Bagust
Company & Stage Manager Polly Meech
Stage Managers Eleanor Dixon & Andy Guard


The Sunday Times
3rd April 2011
* * * * *
   Andrew Hilton’s production is a revelation. This early play is more than a comedy. Voltaire announced that Shakespeare was a barbarian because his tragedies had comic scenes; the great Gallic sage would have been appalled to see a shadow of fear hung over this improbable story. Will poor old Egeon (David Collins) be executed? Can you laugh at Adriana (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) when her husband publicly humiliates her? Or at him (Matthew Thomas) when she humiliates him? The young Shakespeare already knew that life was a two-way game: laughter in the dark, love your neighbour, but don’t trust anyone - not our contemporary, but speaking like one. The two Dromios are comic-heroic victims, looking as eerily alike as their tormented masters.
   Unmissable. John Peter

The Guardian
6th April 2011
* * * *
  From the opening moments, cordially announced by a violin and piano, there’s an air of restraint about Andrew Hilton’s approach to Shakespeare’s early, and rather boisterous comedy. And how welcome this is if you’ve ever suffered a slapstick take on the play, in which two pairs of twins are separated and collide again without meeting until the play’s denouement.
  The comedy comes from the way that collision ripples out into unknowing people’s lives, and the errors it triggers. Done Hilton’s way, with a taut grip on the pace, these are rendered delightful as they unfold. As ever with this tremendous company, Shakespeare’s language is given top billing. Lines that get lost in heavy-handed productions shine here, and are given time to unfurl.
  Hilton’s cast wring every last laugh out of the errors, and you may notice comic nooks that more bombastic productions lose. Kate Kordel’s courtesan, tempting Dan Winter’s Antipholus of Syracuse, is gorgeously laden with innuendo in every line; Nicky Goldie’s Abbess a feisty hoot. Other highlights include Richard Neale’s Dromio of Syracuse, recoiling hilariously from the advances of a servant in Antipholus’s house ("she is the kitchen wench, and all grease") and Dan Winter as his brilliantly befuddled master.
  The design is minimal, with a fitting emphasis on simple symmetry, and Harriet de Winton’s set and costumes work hard to convince us of identical twins throughout. Once this is established, and with the mood almost one of underplaying the comedy, the laughs begin. If you’ve never found Shakespeare’s comedies funny, do try this. Elisabeth Mahoney

The Financial Times
1st April 2011
  In contrast with the increasingly frenetic action that ensues, The Comedy of Errors has what may be the slowest opening scene in all of Shakespeare. Old Egeon’s account of how these two pairs of identical twins have ended up, unbeknown to each other, in the same city resembles the “Previously . . . ” montage at the top of a TV drama serial. However, Andrew Hilton’s second production in this year’s Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory season keeps the pace sprightly from the word go. This, plus judicious trimming, brings the entire saga in at two hours, including interval.
  Yet it doesn’t feel rushed (except when Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Adriana deliberately gabbles her final petition to the Duke for comic effect). Script editor Dominic Power even finds space to add a few pastiche-period musical numbers sung by twin manservants the Dromios. I am unconvinced by Hilton’s decision to have these characters play in received pronunciation; as with almost all of Shakespeare’s clowns, a plebeian twang gives the lines more of a zip. But these shaven-headed Dromios are smart lads. As Dromio of Syracuse, Richard Neale turns a series of worn-out gags about baldness into a gentle twitting of his splendidly coiffed master, Dan Winter.
   Hilton is experienced at getting the job done on a shoestring. The Tobacco Factory’s in-the-round stage is bare throughout, save for the Duke’s desk in the opening scene; Harriet de Winton dresses the cast in unshowy Edwardian costumes (the swords, which often look incongruous when a play is relocated in time, are elegant sword-canes); so everything rests on inspired performance interpretations.
   The Abbess, who appears in Act Five to help tie things up, is played by Nicky Goldie as a pert, assured woman who stands up to others not just out of religious devotion but because it is her natural way. Angelo, the goldsmith who gives one Antipholus a gold chain and seeks payment from the other, is often little more than a vehicle for dramatically expedient mix-ups, but Alan Coveney makes of him a delightful middle-aged creation in a smoking-cap, complete with a spot of Vic Reeves-style lecherous thigh-rubbing. Hilton and his cast find no new depths or angles, but what they do, they do with efficiency and discreet flair. Ian Shuttleworth

The Morning Star
4th April 2011
  Shakespeare’s first play is often treated as pantomime. Timeless characters are lost in a veritable nightmare confusion as two sets of identical twins disrupt their own lives and those of the people around them. Yet lurking beneath the surface of the hilarious comedy of mistaken identities is a dangerous reality. Director Andrew Hilton characteristically sets his production in a clearly delineated Edwardian world with only the nod of a fez to a more exotic Turkish environment. As always he lets the text speak for itself, only giving the farce its head in the second-half climax. As the action accelerates into a manic spiral he and his cast negotiate the complex wordplay with commanding ease, revealing the hidden human fear of not knowing who we are.
  Dan Winter and Matthew Thomas as the Antipholus twins stumble through the muddled maze with increasing hysteria. If their masters find their own unwanted split identities frightening, Richard Neale’s and Gareth Kennerley’s Dromio twins - their respective put-upon servants - accept their regular chastisement with a plaintively mystified resentment. Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s bewildered wife Adriana and her sister, Ffion Jolly’s Luciana, desperately seek some feminine meaning in what appears to be a masculine madhouse.
  The underlying, subtle seriousness of Hilton’s treatment is emphasised by Elizabeth Purnell’s poignant live music and songs which provide a telling counterpoint to the comedy. With this splendid production along with the earlier acclaimed success of Richard II, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory Company record another triumphant season. Gordon Parsons

The Stage
31st March 2011
  Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory designer Harriet de Winton has added a touch of Edwardian style to this engaging version of the Bard’s shortest play. Cravats and waistcoats help disguise the two sets of twins at the heart of the multitude of mistaken identities that decorate so many of his comic plots.
  Attire apart, artistic director Andrew Hilton resists the temptation to treat this early work as pure farce. He never forces the laughs, relying on the near-perfect comic timing of his 16-strong cast rather than any descent into slapstick. Nor does Hilton downplay the hurt at the heart of the comedy, resolved right at the end by the moral message that marriage is sacrosanct and should be celebrated as such.
  The Antipholus and Dromio sets of twins are played by Dan Winter and Matthew Thomas, as two increasingly bewildered young sophisticates, with Richard Neale and Gareth Kennerley as their browbeaten but indestructible servants, whose miraculous meeting at the end unifies the mix of laughter and near-tragedy. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is a sexually eager Adriana, constantly puzzled at her husbands seeming loss of interest, while Ffion Jolly’s sister-in-law Luciana, in contrast, is well aware of the nature of domestic bliss.
  While all and sundry romp their way to a happy conclusion, David Collins’ Egeon is a sort of put-upon chorus, whose reunion with his Abbess wife, played by Nicky Goldie, foretells the moving revelations that Shakespeare employed later to bring Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale to a close. Jeremy Brien