L&R 2014 – The Comedy of Errors

Part of my study abroad trip to London and Rome in September is a series of blog posts about the things we see and do while on the trip. This is the first of five required posts about London and is about going to the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

Before the play began we sat through a lecture about the play, a small room with only a couple empty seats made for a very warm, and sleepy, lecture that (to be honest) I had mostly forgotten by the time the play even started.

You don’t really see the theater itself from the outside, instead you see the entry and ticket hall, which has a lecture hall and additional small theater within it. The reconstructed Globe Theatre is mostly true to what they know of the original design. Not a round building, more of an octogon. redesigned for modern safety features like modern lighting and having more than one exit.

The stage
The stage

The seating
The seating

Jonathan (aka. Giovanni Elliot) waiting for the play to start
Jonathan (aka. Giovanni Elliot) waiting for the play to start

The play itself wasn’t quite what I expected. I hadn’t even seen a performance of it before, but had read the script and, having seen other Shakespeare plays (including the two Portland Actors Ensemble ones at Marylhurst during the summer) so I had some expectations about it.

It was far more slapstick than I thought it would be, but it worked well. The comedic tone was set from the opening bit of Dromio trying to bring down the laundry from the line, a bit not actually in any script of the play I’ve read, and including great physical humor sequences as he struggles to reach it and swings a ladder about to try to get high enough.

Sitting where we were, on the extreme left-wing of the lower level of seating, the view wasn’t great as it was obstructed both by one of the structural beams holding up the upper seating level and by one of the posts of the stage decor. Still, the action was spread across the stage well enough that it rarely felt like I was missing much of what was going on and, aside from one actress late in the play, it was easy to hear and understand what was being said.

Obstructed views: Beam in the foreground right, stage pillar center-fore-right both blocked views of the action on the center of the stage
Obstructed views: Beam in the foreground right, stage pillar center-fore-right both blocked views of the action on the center of the stage

The experience as a whole was fun. I think if the lecture had been held there, in the auditorium, and had been about more of the history of the theatre as well as the play the lecture part would have been more interesting. The play itself was fun, far different from what I expected the play to be, much more kinetic and slapstick. Which might be accurate to how it was originally performed, the slapstick to entertain the standing crowd with the more complex wordplay for the higher-brow seated audience.

Was left with some questions at the end. Curious how much of the bit with the laundry was scripted and how much was improv. At one point in a scuffle sequence the stage setup was damaged and I don’t know if that was planned or happenstance, either way they worked through it nicely and it was a bit of unexpected excitement for that moment in the play.

Center stage structure at the end of the play
Center stage structure at the end of the play

Because it was rebuilt, and obviously modernized with the electric lights and exit signs, the theatre never felt quite as authentic and archaic as it could have. The fact that it was crowded with people the entire time, and how we were rushed out a bit after the play was over didn’t help in that it kept you from ever really having a moment to just stand there and ponder the sort of history the place might have had.

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