tue 15/10/2019

Globe to Globe: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Globe to Globe: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s farce discovers new levels of sauciness and profundity on the streets of Kabul

Unashamedly slapstick: Roy-e-Sabs from KabulSimon Annand

The Comedy of Errors may not be one of Shakespeare’s most notable plays, yet this production embodied the essence of the Globe to Globe season. While the play was lent new kinds of hilarity and colour when interpreted within a different culture, I can’t begin to imagine what appearing in The Globe must have meant to the troupe performing it.

In 2005 Roy-e-Sabs performed Love’s Labour’s Lost in war-ravaged Kabul, presenting Shakespeare in Afghanistan for the first time since the Soviet invasion in 1978. Challenging the country’s repressive conventions, the production featured men and women acting together, the women sometimes without headscarves, lovers holding hands. The company’s audacity came with a price; two of the actresses involved had to flee the country.

At one moment the flautist jumps up to become a jailor, his notes keeping his prisoner in check

These brave men and women were making the most of their first appearance at The Globe, performing Shakespeare’s farce in Dari Persian, but grabbing every opportunity to add the sort of sauciness to proceedings that they wouldn’t be able to at home. The result was madcap, exuberant and ultimately more moving than one might expect.

With The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare takes an early stab at one of his favourite devices, mistaken identity, and milks it. Two sets of identical twins are separated as babies in a storm and grow up in different countries. As adults, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio set off on a voyage in search of their brothers; years later they land in Epheus, unaware that their twins are close at hand. When strangers hail them as friends, they forget to join the dots. A series of chance encounters creates multiple misunderstandings and mounting confusion. Meanwhile, Egeon has also left home in pursuit of his sons. The play opens with him facing execution, as an unwelcome trader, with a day to find the money that will spare his life.

In Corinne Jaber’s production Syracuse became Samarqand, and Ephesus Kabul. The newcomers arrive in westernised tourist garb, enthusiastically taking photographs, but were quickly persuaded to change to local dress. At one point, squabbling man and servant paused and made up during the call to prayer. While there was no set, Jaber employed a trio of musicians (a rebab, a sirbaghali drum and a flute), who not only provided steady accompaniment, but interacted with the characters –  females giving them appreciative winks, at one moment the flautist jumping up to become a jailer, his notes keeping his prisoner in check. With the audience encouraged to clap along, the result was to transport us far away from the Thames.

The action was unashamedly slapstick, going far beyond the text’s repetitive beatings of the put-upon Dromios. And the most significant additions were sexual, whether it was Adriana, jealous wife of the Kabul brother, mistakenly seducing his twin, the portrayal of a courtesan (Farzana Sayed Ahmad) as a piping hot vixen in red leather jacket, hot pants and heels (making great comic sense of the foreigners’ fears that she is a witch) and, most gloriously, the sight of Shah Mamnoon Maqsudi, the actor playing Egeon, doubling up as the maid Luce, a high-pitched panto dame who jumped every man in sight.

A farce became something a little more profound, then, when seeing these particular performers enjoy such free rein. And while we may not have recognised Shakespeare’s final words, we certainly felt their warmth. “We came into the world like brother and brother, And now lets go hand in hand, not one before another.”

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