THE last time Bell Shakespeare staged “The Comedy of Errors” in Canberra in 2002, former ACT arts minister Bill Wood created a stir when he turned up with his identical twin, the late Peter Wood.
For director John Bell had been asking himself about The Bard’s fascination with twins and there, before him, was the real thing.
“That’s easy”, Wood jested to “CityNews” the other day when we asked for his explanation. “It’s because we are very special people.”
Maybe so, but when I catch up by phone to Tamworth with actor Renato Musolino, who plays Dromio of Syracuse in an extended touring production, he has another theory. He thinks it’s because Shakespeare inherited the formula of mistaken identity from classical Roman plays and improved on it.
Musolino pictures Shakespeare saying: “One set of twins is fun, why don’t we make it even more chaotic?”
“The element of extra twins is gold,” he says. “That’s the wonderful thing about Shakespeare, he’s very good at taking older plays and manipulating them in a much better way.”
In this very early Shakespearean comedy, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio visit the fleshpots of Ephesus and are mistaken for the twins Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus.
Director Imara Savage has captured the atmosphere of seediness, the dark underbelly of prostitution, drugs, quackery and even witchcraft in her interpretation of the sleazy town into which the master and servant from Syracuse are thrown.
Musolino gets to play the Syracuse half of the twin Dromios.
“My Dromio is slightly more innocent, more friendly, more happy-go-lucky,” he explains, and his master Antipholus is the same, more open to love.
“It’s as if you took two boys from the country and threw them into King’s Cross,” he says.
Savage, though strictly observing the classical unity of time, has chosen to set the play not in the daytime, but over one night of chaos and drunkenness.
Unusually, Musolino likes touring.
“It’s been an epic tour, but thank God it’s a comedy”, he tells me, talking up the enjoyment of being on the road in good company and the “immediate feedback” that they’ve enjoyed from the wordplay and the slapstick.
It is made much easier by the fact that the play is what he calls “a real crowd pleaser”.
It’s Shakespeare’s shortest play but they’ve made it even a little bit tighter, so that it runs at a frenetic pace without an interval for about 105 minutes.
Have no fear, “the end is quite joyous, everything is resolved,” Musolino says.
“The Comedy of Errors”, a co-production of Bell Shakespeare and the State Theatre Company of SA, The Playhouse, October 29 to November 9, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.