The Comedy of Errors (more or less) – Review – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough


By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe, April 2023

When Stephen Joseph Theatre send out an email prior to a show, with a link to a special Spotify collection, encouraging its audience members to become familiar with the songs before they arrive, then you get an indication that this show is going to be different. When you realise that those songs are such eighties classics as Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’, Cher’s ‘Just Like Jesse James’, and Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, then you know that you’re in for a stonking evening. When you find your seat, and discover a sing-along songbook, and that the middle-aged woman across the aisle is already up doing the Cabbage-Patch, re-living her school disco days and dancing like no one is watching, then you get a big hint that this isn’t going to be your average classic Shakespeare.
And you’d be right.

The Comedy Of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s earlier plays, and one of his most farcical, with lots of the humour coming through slapstick, puns, and word play. It is located in Ephesus, where two sets of identical twins are accidentally separated at birth. Years later, Antipholus and his servant Dromio, who live in Syracuse, visit Ephesus, both unaware that their respective twins live there, setting the scene for the mayhem caused by mistaken identities.

‘The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less)’ is the bard with leg warmers, shoulder pads, shell suits, and a few contraband Eccles cakes thrown in for good measure.

comedy of errors more or less review sjt

Alyce Liburd, Valerie Antwi, Ida Regan, Claire Eden

“Lot of thought and skill”

The production is a co-commission with Shakespeare North, which is based in Prescot, Lancashire, and Stephen Joseph Theatre based in Scarborough, Yorkshire, so the idea of switching Ephesus and Syracuse for a spot of very gentle Lancashire-Yorkshire rivalry is an absolute gift. There are ongoing jokes about the flat-iron building, which was for many years the Lancashire Watch factory, but also sits on the site of the original Prescot Playhouse, which from c1593 to the early seventeenth century was the only freestanding Elizabethan theatre outside London, looking not dissimilar to the Globe Theatre, and the inspiration behind the building of Shakespeare North.

Scarborough has our own fabulous Stephen Joseph Theatre, which may not be Elizabethan, but is perfectly situated for The Spa, sea, ice-creams, fish and chips, boarding houses, parkin, and penny arcades aplenty to leverage the humour. Regionally, Look North and Sylvia Plath get a mention too.

The elements of the original play are there; indeed, Elizabeth Godber has made it clear, “We kept saying this is a three-person script – Shakespeare is the third writer, and we have to make sure his voice is heard”. Two mothers, two sets of twins, separated. Will they ever be brought together again? Here, writers Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane have fun. What if, instead of Egeon as an old man sneaking into Ephesus to seek his lost twin son, Egeon is the mother of the twins, and what if she’s a baker from Lancashire, who seeks her son in Scarborough, a town very firmly in Yorkshire? And whilst we’re at it, throw out any concept of Dromio being a servant, and let’s give Adrienne and Luciana feminist feistiness. But fun doesn’t mean flippancy. It’s very clear that an awful lot of thought and skill has been put into every aspect of the writing, direction and execution of this production.

comedy of errors review sjt 2023

David Kirkbride, Oliver Mawdsley


Godber knows her Shakespeare and is passionate about making it accessible to both modern audiences and to women, who can struggle with the original’s misogynistic elements. Lane writes consistently outstanding audience-centred scripts. There is never a step out of place in director Paul Robinson’s productions. This is a formidable trio, and we are so privileged to have them all working out of Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Backed up by a fantastic team of creatives – the work of Alex Wetherill (Musical Director), Wayne Parsons (Movement Director), Simon Slater (Composer and Sound Designer), Chuma Emembolu (Lighting Designer), Jessica Curtis (Designer), and Alex Dunmore (Accent Coach), particularly shine out in The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less), but the reality is that every one of the unseen creatives is a star in ensuring the successful, smooth running of a fast-paced production like this, and all are to be congratulated.

The team behind the writing of the programme, and the digital medias around the show also need a huge shout out. The programme is designed as an integral part of the story and the comedy, and it’s so cleverly done. Clue; the cast indicate several times that they are a company of seven actors!

comedy of errors review sjt

Ida Regan, Alyce Liburd

“Fully focused”

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual show. This production is like a huge, brilliant, bonkers April Fools’ stunt, told mainly in rhyming couplets, and like many truly funny things, it loses punch in a second-hand telling. It’s an audience immersive that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, but look out for the signature tunes for characters – there’s the theme from The A Team, an ingeniously placed snatch of Jeff Wayne’s ‘The Eve Of The War’ amongst others, and visual clues for the red rose of Lancashire and the white rose of Yorkshire, with times when both come together in unison.

For a frenetic piece like this, where slapstick, dance routines and visual comedy are the pivot on which all the action turns, timing is everything, and it calls for serious, well-rehearsed, commitment from fully focused, talented actors to make the mayhem look spontaneous. And this is a cast that has that talent by the Spandex shovel full.

Any show that features Andy Cryer (Solinus, Angelo, Pinch and Northern Chorus) is on to a winner; it’s good to see him both back in Scarborough, and doing Shakespeare again. Claire Edon (Egeon, Balthasha, Big Sandra, Stage Manager, and Northern Chorus), David Kirkbride (Antipholus of Scarborough), Valeri Antwi (Anne Court, Manager, and Northern Chorus), Alyce Liburd (Adriana and Northern Chorus, and Oliver Mawdsley (Dromio of Prescot), are all superb, established character actors, and switch roles with breakdance precision, but I really want to mention Ida Regan (Luciana and Northern Chorus), for whom The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less) is an SJT debut, having graduated during 2020 when theatres were closed and many left the industry. Ida is brilliant and has one of the best retorts in the play, in my opinion; I sincerely hope that she goes from strength to strength, and that we see much more of her in our region.

comedy of errors shakespeare review sjt

Valerie Antwi and the company

“So entertaining”

There are three more cast members to mention. Both Zach Mawdsley (Dromio of Scarborough) and Peter Kirkbride (Antipholus of Prescot) played their roles with uncanny similitude.

I don’t have a name for the student from CUSC (whose BA in Acting is run in conjunction with Stephen Joseph Theatre) who, at the very last minute, stood in for Solinus, but she was magnificently stiff lipped and pumped; such energetic gesticulations should take her far.

The sheer ongoing energy of everyone was exhausting to watch, but so entertaining. This must surely have been the feel-good factor Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote the original.

I really would urge you to go and see it for yourself, and I defy anyone to watch without joining in, tapping your feet, and laughing until your jaw hurts. It’s what life in a northern town needs.

‘The Comedy Of Errors (More Or Less)’ is at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until April 15, 2023
All images: © Patch Dolan


Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.