The Comedy of Errors as presented by Sell a Door productions at the Greenwich Playhouse is an earnest affair. The entire company speaks the verse with ease and understanding—a welcome accomplishment from fringe Shakespeare. But in presenting the text so literally, the production loses sight of the humor in this situational comedy.
Director Bryn Holding places Comedy in a 1950s beach side setting. A program note informs that this allows the production “to explore a time in which master and servant relationships still existed and the role and position of women was beginning to change.” Designer Adrian Gee’s set involves three beach huts with doors, useful for concealing characters. The huts later become, with the assistance of some appropriate sound effects, the priory in which the final revelations take place. Costumes, a bit ill-fitting on the Antipholuses, enhance the 1950s feel. Most notable are the Dromio costumes: matching blue/white striped shirts and short blue shorts worn with pale blue flats and white socks.
All of the cast speak well. Stephen Barden as the Duke opens strongly, revealing the tied-up Egeon (Kenneth Jay) behind one of the doors. Jay makes clear and clean work of Egeon’s lengthy and involved exposition. The action moves to Antipholus of Syracuse (Nick Lennon) and his confused encounter with Dromio of Epheseus (David Eaton). Lennon, though earnest, in his lighter moments has a bit of Hugh Laurie-Prince George charm. A nice comic touch involves the action freezing and a spotlight shining on Lennon during his asides to the audience—should he follow the woman Adriana (Sophie Cosson) claiming to be his wife? His twin (the two are dressed alike and, when standing next to each other, are exactly the same height) Antipholus from Ephesus (Patrick West-Oram) has a similar straightforwardness and occasional humor. Cosson's delivery is strong, but her intensity would be better fitted for a Lady Macbeth or a wounded Desdemona. Adriana's sister Luciana (Sarah Llewellyn-Shore) provides a lighter counterbalance.
Mark Collier’s Dromio of Syracuse manages to move the play out of its seriousness with his description of the overbearing kitchen maid who mistakes him for his twin (a nice moment of realization, too, at the end, in which he wonders how his twin could possibly be interested in such a woman). Nicola Wilkinson’s Courtesan likewise finds a sustained levity in her wanton and fun portrayal. She is aware of her character’s ridiculousness and revels in it.
While Sell a Door’s Comedy is clear and straightforward, it takes itself far too seriously. The cast has plenty of talent, but Holding does not draw it out for comedic effect. For instance, during the final scene in which the two sets of twins meet as well as the long-separated Egeon and wife Emelia (Elizabeth Graham), there is no acknowledgment that the entire situation is implausible, ridiculous, and funny. Even a few knowing looks or a shoulder shrug or two would go a long way. There are touches of camp (Dromio costumes, hello), innuendo, and craziness within the production that are waiting to be released. Make it naughty, make it larger-than-life, make it knowing, make it something—but right now this Comedy seems too much a product of the austere times.