Reasons why I didn’t want to like this recording. 1) The premise is profoundly, deeply idiotic. The intellect rebels at Shakespeare’s decision to take Plautus’ tale of twins separated at birth and…hey, it will be twice as funny if we add another set of twins separated at birth, right? Taking an ancient device and beating the audience over the head with it shouldn’t work, should indeed be punishable. 2) I have the old Chambers chronology of Shakespeare’s plays that listed Comedy of Errors as Shakespeare’s first comedy burned in my memory, so I carry the expectation that it is a primitive, a disposable first try. 3) George Rylands in a dual role as the brothers Antipholus. Rylands, a brilliant, visionary director was also an actor of very limited range and idiosyncratic, distracting vocal style at least 20 years too old for the part. This can’t be good.
Reasons why I regretted my predisposition. 1) Michael Bates as the two Dromios is very funny. Not only are the two twin dogsbodies well played, but they are conceived as individual characters. Dromio of Syracuse is genial, slow-witted and adenoidal, while Dromio of Ephesus is bright and rather high-strung. 2) Rylands’ casting is impeccable, with formidable Joan Hart as Adriana and winsome Janette Richer as Luciana, both perfect. 3) Rylands as actor is actually not that bad. He gives at least a sketchy idea that Antipholus S is gruff and a little weatherbeaten as opposed to the effete, urbane Antipholus of Ephesus, and he and Bates have a good, relaxed chemistry, A of S genuinely amused by his servant’s witticisms.
And it’s simply a better play than I remembered. The Marlowe Society’s standard reverential text-attentive reading emphasizes the serious aspects of the story. Father Aegeon is condemned to death and genuinely convinced of his imminent demise; Antipholus E and Adriana have serious, possibly tragic marriage problems; reputations are in danger, merchants worry about their trade, and within a universe of real life concerns appears the wild, mad device of two sets of twins and resulting, surreal instances of mistaken identities. Add to this a mad doctor named Pinch and Prunella Scales as a French-accented streetwalker, and you’re in a very odd and eventful 90 minutes of audio Shakespeare indeed.
The Comedy of Errors with George Rylands, Michael Bates, Joan Hart, Janette Richer, Prunella Scales