A Comedy of Errors


This is the fourth year in a row that I have been to see Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour production in the Bodleian Quadrangle (or to give it its proper name, the Old Schools Quadrangle).  This is a good year – at least for the Comedy of Errors, which is the production that I saw.  This year, the Globe on Tour is touring across the UK and the world with three plays; a Comedy of Errors, Pericles and Twelfth Night.

A Comedy of Errors tells the story of a family – husband Egeon, wife Emilia and identical twin sons and their identical twin servants. The family takes a sea voyage and a storm strikes.  The ship is dashed on a rock and split in two.  Egeon, one son and one servant make it home to Syracuse.  The other son and servant end up in Ephesus.  Emilia’s whereabouts are unknown.

After searching for their lost family for years, Egeon and his son and servant begin searching in Ephesus. Confusion and hilarity ensue, helped along by the fact that after losing his twin brother, the other twin decides to take on his brother’s name – so both twins are now called Antipholus. Similarly, both servants are called Dromio.

If you do not know this play well, then my advice would be to spend half an hour beforehand, becoming familiar with the plot.  The comedy in this play centres on the confusion of identities – so if you are unfamiliar with the play it may become confusing.

The Bodleian Quadrangle is surely one of the most spectacular venues for outdoor theatre in the UK.  The quadrangle is surrounded on all sides by Bodleian Library buildings. The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. There is something truly magical about seeing Shakespeare performed in environs that existed, and were known to Shakespeare, during his lifetime. The bar is set up in the Divinity School, the most spectacular 15thcentury medieval teaching hall.  Sipping a drink during the interval in those surrounds is a genuine privilege.

The performance itself is beautifully done.  A young, talented cast bring the story to life with energy and humour.  Although the whole cast does a wonderful job, there were a few stand out performances; Colin Campbell as Antipholus of Syracuse does a brilliant job of being hilariously clueless, Beau Holland’s performance as Dromio of Syracuse strikes the right balance between slapstick and bewilderment and Evelyn Miller, as Adriana, brings a power and levity to her performance that helps to offset the slapstick humour.

The actors are lucky to be supported by artistic and thoughtful stage, set and costume design. Sometimes minimalist sets are designed for the main scenes and require the audience to suspend disbelief for the other scenes.  In this case, the minimalist set somehow looks bespoke for each of the varied scenes; a sign of real design genius. Similarly, the costumes were entirely appropriate and despite the heavy use of the baggy trousers, so beloved by theatre companies the world over, in this case, beautiful jackets and appropriate props meant that the costumes enhanced the performance.  In the dying evening light, the gold details on the long, velvet coats glowed like jewels.

The Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour has enhanced Oxford’s theatre scene with this beautiful, thoughtful and hilarious production.  If you go to only one play a year, then let it be this.