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The Comedy of Errors On Screen

TV adaptations of Shakespeare's mistaken-identity comedy

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One of Shakespeare's earliest plays and, at just 1,777 lines, the shortest, The Comedy of Errors was first performed in 1592-93 and first published in the First Folio of 1623. It was based on Plautus' 'Menaechmi', which Shakespeare is assumed to have studied at grammar school.

There have been five television versions of The Comedy of Errors, unrecorded live productions broadcast by the BBC in 1954 and ITV in 1956 (the latter sourced from a concurrent London Arts Theatre production starring Jane Wenham, Frederick Jaeger, Bernard Cribbions and Patricia Routledge, "with gay music by Julian Slade"), two recordings of Royal Shakespeare Company productions, and the inevitable BBC Television Shakespeare entry. The Bamforth company also made a short 1915 film entitled A Comedy of Errors, but this was a vehicle for the popular comedian Winky - trade paper Bioscope confirmed that Shakespeare was not the source in its 14 October 1915 issue.

The first of the RSC adaptations was broadcast by the BBC on 1 January 1964, directed by Peter Duguid and sourced from Clifford Williams' stage production that was still running at the Aldwych Theatre when it was broadcast. The cast included Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson, Alec McCowen, Diana Rigg and Janet Suzman.

The second RSC-sourced production was made by ATV and broadcast on 18 April 1978. Philip Casson directed the television version, adapted from Trevor Nunn's popular modern-dress production with Roger Rees, Michael Williams, Judi Dench and Francesca Annis and a great deal of additional visual humour and spectacle courtesy of Nunn and choreographer Gillian Lynne.

The rather more sombre BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation was broadcast on 24 December 1983, directed by James Cellan Jones and starring Cyril Cusack, Charles Gray, Ingrid Pitt, Wendy Hiller, Michael Kitchen and Roger Daltrey, the latter playing both Dromios simultaneously with the aid of electronic trickery, though the results garnered a mixed reception. It was accompanied by a 25-minute Shakespeare in Perspective documentary presented by the comedian Roy Hudd that was broadcast the same evening.

Michael Brooke

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Comedy of Errors, The (1978)

Comedy of Errors, The (1978)

Trevor Nunn's acclaimed RSC musical production

Thumbnail image of Comedy of Errors, The (1983)

Comedy of Errors, The (1983)

BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation with Roger Daltrey

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