The Comedy of Errors: why slapstick comedy is still funny

Carrie Gaunt (Emilia), Ellie Gauge (Director) and Kate Barton (Producer)
Carrie Gaunt (Emilia), Ellie Gauge (Director) and Kate Barton (Producer)

talks to the cast and director of Castle Theatre Company’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’.

Castle Theatre Company’s summer tour is one of their favourite traditions. Annually, they pick a production which they first perform in Durham, and then gradually move further and further south to perform in a variety of different venues. This year they will be touring The Comedy of Errors.

As one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most farcical comedies, the humour arises out the age old case of mistaken identity. Its humour is so universal in its appeal because of its lack of pretentiousness. The humour is grounded as much in slapstick comedy as it is in its word play. In a nutshell, the play centres around two sets of identical twins who have been separated at birth, and the chaos which ensues when they coincidently reencounter each other.

The unfortunate occurrences of Shakespeare’s comedy certainly seem to be working their way into the rehearsal process itself. Sophie McQuillian (Adriana) jibes that Ellie Gauge, the director, had proclaimed that rehearsals would be great because all she wanted to do was hang out in the sun with her theatre friends, McQuillan then points to outside, “and now it’s raining”. As I looked outside and at the relentless rain, it was no wonder why the weather was casting a shade of doubt over a cast who are supposed to be performing in the Fellow’s Garden. However, with the weather looking up, the venue undoubtedly seems a far more appealing space. Talking about Fellow’s Garden, says, “it’s so lovely, it’s like a secret space”.

Harvey Comerford (Antipholus of Syracuse) and Dom McGovern (Dromio of Ephesus)

As with most things however, the space does still come with its own challenges. Harvey Comerford (Antipholus of Syracuse) emphasises the difficulty of filling such a great space, and a rather troublesome and vocal tree which causes havoc with projecting sound. Sophie McQuillan reiterates this because the venue poses the age old problem of how in rehearsals “you learn to act things subtly, but in that space you simply can’t do that”.

However, the challenges the venue poses for the actors seem to be comparatively a small problem. It’s evident that this show is just as much a pleasure for its cast to perform as it is for its audience to watch. In a comedy so keen on beating its cast members up, the jibes have also manifested themselves between the cast outside of the rehearsals. Many cast members propose that a good reason to go see it is to see Dom McGovern (Dromio of Ephesus) get beaten up, and he himself admits that this is probably an apt reason for coming. Beyond the joy of perhaps seeing McGovern specifically getting beaten up, Tristan Robinson (Dromio of Syracuse) aptly says the “humour isn’t grounded so much in the language as the physical comedy”.

The Comedy of Errors is so resonantly funny because slapstick, farcical and very physical comedy remains extremely enjoyable, even in a theatrical world where humour has become fondly abstracted in the most bizarre of places. The Comedy of Errors epitomises why humour doesn’t need to be extracted from an intellectual and niche source, and can rather be enjoyed for humour’s sake itself. Put simply, seeing someone fall over is and probably shall always be undeniably funny, and this play takes good advantage of this fact. 

As her last stint as director in Durham admits that “it’s a funny one to go out on” but that it has also meant that there’s a different kind of joy because “it’s just not too intense”. It’s more than just a play though; the cast are adamant that it’s also an event. This summer Shakespeare would be incomplete without their encouragement of the audience also engaging in a “Pimm’s and a picnic” kind of affair as well.

With bright, sunny skies forecasted for both performances, The Comedy of Errors should prove to be a all round crowd-pleaser. It’s enjoyable for various types of theatre goer, and is certainly still undeniably funny, as with many Shakespeare plays, several centuries later.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ is at Fellow’s Garden, Castle, from Thu 11 June to Fri 12 June.

Photographs: Florence Chater

One thought on “The Comedy of Errors: why slapstick comedy is still funny

  • Im scared that my husband naomi doesnt love me anymore!


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