Darn it. For one reason or another I missed out on seeing last night’s performance at Gray’s Inn Field of Antic Disposition’s Comedy of Errors. One reason being that nonone wanted to come along – after all they’d seen that play at the Rose, done by an all male company, who the year before had given a cracking Midsummer Night’s Dream with full on production values and energy in spades. Thanks to their funding being pulled, their CofE was a school show with costumes being pulled from railings as an obviously necessary device – I could smell sweaty gyms and the fading smell of school dinners. The set text kids loved it – but I was saddened.
So I thought I’d give the other a go. It was set in a prohibition- era Chicago and was based on a favourite film- Some Like it Hot. Obviously the cross dressing, trickery,etc was the key. There was a band ( based on Sweet Sue’s) and a Marilyn/Sugar Cane – what’s not to love?
BUT I DIDN’T GET TO GO. Instead, I settled down to watch the previously mentioned Friday Night Dinner. The family love it – no schlepping into town, for one thing. And so I got to thinking – none of this has changed since the days of Plautus ( Roman comedic playwright who followed the Greeks) – no wonder Frankie Boyle is whinging about the BBC and how sitcoms are stuck in 1978 ( yeah,1978 BC!).
Your average Plautine comedy is responsible for many a sitcom. Think first of all about stock characters – crafty plotting slave, hapless master in thrall to a nagging wife, young lovers finding ingenious ways to meet, cases of mistaken identity, annoying neighbour, the list goes on. Oh, and the chorus.
Starter for ten – name as many as you like. I’m thinking of Fawlty Towers, Terry and June -often the twenty year old son plays to the crafty type here), Porridge, the list is endless.
Where’s the Chorus, you’re asking? Think of those little scenes at the beginning of the show which foreshadow the action – when Seargent Wilson mentions the Warmington-on- Sea village fete,one immediately senses trouble between the Vicar and Captain Mainwaring, when Basil tells the Major that the wife’s sister is turning up, when Godber informs Fletch that McKay is on a cell hunt for contraband, etc,etc.
Films? Apart from Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, The Rocky Horror Show (!!). Textbook. The storyteller in the armchair, the revellers, the plotting servants. Pure Plautus.
Which brings me back to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. S challenged himself to write to the model of Plautus’ Menaechmi , for Ephesus read Rome of course.What about The Office, The Royle Family,People Just do Nothing ?Look hard enough and he’s in there somewhere.And as Billy Wilder wrote as the final line of Some Like it Hot:- “Nobody’s Perfect”.