Review: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (At Stratford)

by Lynn on June 14, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Stratford Festival, at the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Keira Loughran

Designed by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Composer and sound, Alexander MacSween

Cast: Beryl Bain

Rod Beattie

Juan Chioran

Sarah Dodd

Sébastien Heins

Jessica B. Hill

Qasim Khan

Josue Laboucane

Alexandria Lainfiesta

Amelia Sargisson

And others….

There is nothing funny in this comedy-challenged, error riddled, ill-conceived production.

The Story.  I’ll first reference Shakespeare’s story in detail for context and then note Kiera Loughran’s version.

 Egeon was a merchant born in Syracuse. He was doing business in Epidamnum when his pregnant wife, Emilia, followed him there and soon gave birth to twin boys. In the same hour, in the same inn where they were staying, a poor woman gave birth to twin boys as well (was it something in the water, do you think?). Since she was very poor Egeon bought the woman’s twin boys to be raised as servants to his twin boys.

Emilia wanted the family to go home. They got on a boat with the two sets of twins, and there was a storm. Emilia took one twin of her sons and one twin of the servant babies and tied herself to a mast and Egeon did the same to another mast and of course as luck would have it the ship broke up and the husband and wife with the babies became separated. Egeon and one son were picked up by a passing boat and he lost sight of his wife and the baby boys.

After 18 years Egeon’s son wanted to find his mother and his brother, and the twin servant went with him on the voyage. So the two boys set off. When they did not return after a really long time Egeon went to find them and had been looking for five years. The search brought him to Ephesus (Nice ruins today, terrific library with a secret passageway to a nearby brothel. But I digress).

Because there had been animosity between Ephesus and Syracuse there was a decree from the Duke that if any Syracusian was found in Ephesus he would be put to death (rather harsh) but would be spared if he could pay 1000 marks (rather harsh too). So the Duke of Ephesus decreed that Egeon should die but first he wanted to hear his story. The Duke was touched on the hearing and granted Egeon a one day extension to get the money.

What no one knew was that the both sets of twins were there already. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio had lived in Ephesus for his whole life. Antipholus was married to Adriana, but he seemed to dally with women not his wife, and even had a necklace made for one of them. Of course Antipholus of Ephesus was accompanied by his servant Dromio of Ephesus.


Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio of Syracuse are newly arrived in Ephesus, have sufficient means to last them on their adventures.  Ephesus is a small town and people know each other. So here we have one half of two pairs of twins roaming around the place at the same time. The two Antipholusess are mistaken for each other and so are the Dromios. This means that Adriana mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her own husband (Antipholus of Ephesus). And that goes for Dromio too.

Until eventually it’s sorted. (This is not a spoiler—the play is 400 years old for heaven sake.)

Kiera Loughran’s version: She has interpreted The Comedy of Errors as a play about gender fluidity. In her version Egeon’s twin children are a boy and a girl and it is the girl Egeon is searching for. For some reason the girl assumes the name of her lost brother—Antipholus—and when she came to Ephesus she put on the disguise of a man, why, I know not—I can’t find a reason for this decision in my copy of the play—but I digress.

The Production. This busy production starts with a loud blast of rock music and the many and various citizens of Ephesus go busting from one side of the stage to the other, sometimes bumping into each other. Two smartly dressed ‘men’ with the same maroon suit and hair style bump into each other and look quizzically at one another. Two other ‘twins’ with a Harpo Marx hair do and pantaloons also look strangely at one another. There is a pair of identical looking police officers dressed from top to toe in the same powder blue uniform with the same hair do. Kiera Loughran is certainly hammering home her point of twinness. I also note that several actors are dressed as women: one wears a fat woman’s garb with drooping breasts. Another wears heels and a suggestive outfit.

When the play proper begins the Duke (Juan Chioran) stands above the assembled and passes judgment on Egeon for being a Syracusian in Ephesus. Chioran is courtly, dignified, speaks with gravitas and is touched at Egeon’s tale of woe. But for some reason the Duke/Chioran is dressed as a statuesque woman with a tilted wide brimmed blue had, a blue form fitted top and a long skirt slit up to the thigh, revealing a lot of thigh and a knee-high heeled boot. Now what is that all about? Is the Duke a cross-dresser? Is this Loughran imposing more of her ‘concept’ on the play? Who knows?

When Ariana is upset that her husband Antipholus of Ephesus is not home we hear her behind a closed door express her ire in Spanish (it seems to me). Spanish in Ephesus (which is now in Turkey). What’s that all about—more xenophobia? Hmmm.

This is a comedy challenged, error-filled, ill-conceived production. I tried very hard to try and understand Kiera Loughran’s thinking. Perhaps she’s looking at how we all have both genders in us at birth and then develop one way or the other and in these cases the development didn’t happen.  So she was looking at that duality by having Antipholus of Syracuse, the woman, dressed as a man but acting courtly, with dignity and maturity, as perhaps a man might act.  But Antipholus of Ephesus, the male twin, acted as a stereotypical woman or just an effeminate man—flighty, hands flapping, almost hysterical and posing.

So how can these two characters actually be mistaken for one another since their behaviour is so different. Really, Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife would not be able to tell the difference between a courtly man and an effeminate one? What’s wrong with this picture?

Jessica B. Hill as Antipholus of Syracuse is poised, gracious and dignified, a princely man if that is the intension.  But what Qasim Khan is directed to do as Antipholus of Ephesus is embarrassing….be effeminate, silly, flighty and hysterical in the delivery. Is this somebody’s idea of what a woman acts like in 2018? Or a gay man? Really?

Loughran is a clumsy stager, upstaging her cast with silly business at the expense of actors actually speaking the lines of Shakespeare. I think of the scene in which Dr. Pinch (Rod Beattie) a school master and others are trying to subdue and bind Antipholus of Ephesus because they think he is possessed. Pinch tries to ‘exorcise’ the demon by putting his hand up in front of Antipholus’ face and exhorting the devil to leave the body. Antipholus puts his hand up to Pinch which puts him in a trance. Another character claps his hands and Pinch is shaken out of the trance. Another character stamps his foot and again Pinch is back in the trance and shaking. Another snap of the fingers and he’s out of the trance and another clap and he’s in it the trance and shaking and weaving around the stage. Ridiculous and at the expense of the actors giving lines.

 Comment. In her program note Keira Loughran references Prince, Antonin Artaud, Swinburne, David Bowie and Jan (formerly James) Morris on their comments on sexuality, finding ourselves, the notion of twins, and living our lives as we wanted to. Loughran says in her program note in part: “The world of Ephesus in this production is an homage to the history, insights and accomplishments of transgender and gender-fluid communities.  Their stories have inspired me to explore what it might take to establish, in the face of persecution, a community that is fiercely committed to inclusion, self-determination and non-conformity. This opened up other ways for us to consider the idea of ‘double,’ to interpret violence, to discover comedy, to understand family.”

This is all very well and good but the play doesn’t support this thesis. Loughran’s concept for The Comedy of Errors doesn’t work and the whole enterprise is deadly.

However there is another production which does prove her thesis without twisting and distorting the material and that’s The Rocky Horror Show.  More on that soon.

The Stratford Festival Presents.

Opened: June 1, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes

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