The Comedy of Errors

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Castle Grounds and Keep, Guildford

Matt Pinches and Richard Pepper as the two Dromios Credit: Steve Porter
Sarah Gobran as Adriana, Faye Winter as Angela, Hayley Doherty as Luciana

Ploughing through torrential rain on our way to Guildford, we asked ourselves if we were mad to be even thinking of going to an open air performance but, so far as the weather is concerned, British optimism knows no bounds and we ploughed on.

So glad that we did as, apart from one tiny shower, the skies cleared and the performance went without a hitch (apart, that is, from those intended).

The "part-promenade" production begins with a walk to The Keep for the public execution of the Syracuse Merchant Egeon (Tim Hudson) and his perfect delivery of a speech explaining the situation to date, about the only serious episode in a crazy play, although soon dissolving into laughter with the antics to illustrate a shipwreck and efforts to save two sets of twins.

The speech includes memory of the birth of his twin sons “so alike that it was impossible to tell them apart except by name”—then Shakespeare decides to call them both Antipholus—how did he think of that one? Not content with that, the twins born to a maid are both called Dromio. You get an inkling then of the chaos to follow—and it certainly does.

The concept of the play is ridiculous, yet at the same time the crafting of it is extremely clever as episodes of misunderstandings and accusations all follow each other at very high speed with the characters getting more and more furious while the audience can (mostly) see what’s going on.

It’s a big challenge to the performers to get the timing absolutely spot on, but, in its 10th anniversary season, this youthful and innovative company has lost none of its energy and expertise. One of the most hilarious highlights is at the end in another high speed and perfectly choreographed and rehearsed scene of chaos and surprise as they all discover each other.

The two sets of twins, Simon Nock and Morgan Philpott as the Antipholus and Matt Pinches and Richard Pepper as the Dromios, have the most action, the most fun, and (for the Dromios) the most pain, constantly being blamed for everything that goes wrong, but the two sisters also share a very large portion of the plot.

I’m sure it’s not in her nature, but as Adriana Sarah Gobran plays a shrewish, jealous wife to the manner born. Her impatience with a husband who is late for dinner, and what she is going to do with him when he does get home, are blindingly evident and very funny. Lovely performance too from Hayley Doherty as sister Luciana, trying hard to stop herself falling for her sister’s husband—and not succeeding.

With the company only nine-strong, there’s quite a bit of doubling up of the characters. Tim Hudson, as well as Egeon, is a very strange doctor, a merchant and Nell, an extremely feisty cook. What he/she does with a rolling pin is very fast, very slick and looks very painful.

Fiz Marcus is a very haughty and authoritative Duchess Solinus before thoroughly enjoying herself (and delighting us) as a seductive Courtesan, following that with her role as a Nun, while Faye Winter, as well as a merchant, is a goldsmith dripping in gold, and somehow reminding me of a grasshopper with her printed leggings, blouson top and rather crouching stance.

All parts are so well performed that many of the audience were really surprised to see so few performers at the curtain call. It’s always a pleasure to see whatever this company presents and well worth risking a little rain.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor