The Australian Shakespeare Company is back this summer with Shakespeare’s shortest and most farcical play, The Comedy of Errors. Filled with slapstick, mistaken identity, puns and word play, ASC is sure to raise your mirth with their interpretation of this Shakespeare classic.
An earlier work, The Comedy of Errors, may not be immediately familiar to some but is ensured, on contact, to arouse praise. This was certainly the case for actor Elizabeth Brennan who admits that her interest was piqued initially by her lack of familiarity with the piece. “As a big old Shakespeare nerd, I have read and performed many of his comedies, but for whatever reason I’d barely had any contact with this one,” says Brennan adding that the play is a bit of a hidden gem for her. “I love the frenetic pace of it! The misunderstandings and absurdities hit you in the face almost immediately and never really let up until the last 2 minutes. It’s brutal. What is Shakespeare saying? I feel like I could mount a convincing argument that he is trying to present the upper classes in an unflatteringly ruthless light or that he is exploring how women either conform to or push against the strictures placed upon them, but he could merely be attempting to craft the perfect fart joke.”
Brennan plays Adriana who is the overwrought, melodramatic wife of one of the mistaken twins. “Lots of wailing and issuing stern commands, but she’s a bunch of fun to play,” says Brennan. “A tricky line to walk, with her… On the one hand, she’s a rather spoiled, privileged woman used to having her own way and sharing her highly subjective opinions with the world at large. But she’s also a victim of her surroundings and seems to be labouring under genuine distress. She calls out the hypocrisy of the times and is unafraid of critiquing what she believes to be unreasonable, a surprisingly political figure sitting in the middle of all this tomfoolery. But yes, making sure the pathos doesn’t cancel out the humour has been an interesting challenge.”
Brennan acknowledges that it’s been a treat dipping into one of Shakespeare’s earliest works. She explains that there’s a real focus on simplicity to this one..zeroing in on an idea and running with it, taking it as far as it will go, serving the farce above all else. “You can see hints of the poetry and complexity evident in his later plays, but everything feels more streamlined and sharp.”
Brennan’s involvement with ASC began in 2016, when she stumbled across an advert for an open audition while nursing her sick cat. “It was about 3am and I was literally alternating between coaxing/begging him to eat and filling out the application form,” she says. ” Expectations were not high on my end, but I ended up getting cast as Viola in their production of Twelfth Night and have been consistently involved in their summer season since.”
Brennan absolutely loves working in the gardens with the ASC! “Delivering both the most beautiful poetry and ludicrous gags to the bats and possums… it’s hard to beat,” she jokes. “There’s a special kind of connection that forms between performer and audience during these shows that I don’t think I’ve really felt anywhere else. Hard to describe, really… It feels more communal than your average theatrical setting, like we are all participating in creating the experience together. The weather provides a constant challenge, of course, and the shows demand a high level of fitness and dexterity, but it’s all so much fun!”
Brennan also credits ASC for the way it manages to balance respect for the text with a deep commitment to entertainment. The traditionalists will appreciate that the intentions of the work remain, while those less thrilled by Shakespeare will enjoy the humour and physical brightness of it all. “I mean, we all have repressed memories of the dreaded year nine Romeo and Juliet essay to contend with, but I think it’s worth swallowing those and coming along. Many belly laughs to be had,” she says.
Brennan is a Green Room Award nominated actor and writer currently based in Melbourne. She has collaborated extensively with the independent theatre company Bloomshed, most notably co-devising/performing in the award winning production of Nicolai Gogal’s The Nose and their recent adaptations Paradise Lost and Bad News. Her theatrical credits include the self-devised Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ham, The Market Is A Wind-Up Toy, The Rabble’s In The Bleak Midwinter and Animal Farm, as well as multiple stints with the Australian Shakespeare Company.
As a creative, Brennan says it’s often about variation. She likes to explore as many different characters as she can and loves to dabble in a wide range of performance styles. “Stories that throw something up into the air and watch it fall… stories presenting a genuinely new perspective on some aspect of life,” she says adding that she’s usually drawn to works that are strongly comedic with a forceful undercurrent of political exploration. “That’s certainly where a lot of my writing sits, but I’m really quite broad in my personal taste. I find performing in theatre enormously exciting, but I’m aware that that doesn’t always translate. I think performers can get caught in the indulgence of it, the feeling good of it and bypass the exchange that needs to take place for a work to be engaging. I know I have, at times. I think – and forgive me if this is all a bit muddled – that the most interesting thing about theatre is the “ what’s real?” colliding with “what’s fake?”. Real human bodies working, sweating, breathing in front of you, for you, with you but with the acknowledged pretence that none of it is real, ultimately. Both more real and more pretend than anything else I’ve encountered.”
And as for her greatest inspirations: “I found my Creative Dance teacher quite inspiring. She was the first person to encourage me theatrically and suggest that I might have a knack for acting. I mean, it’s possible that she was simply trying to steer me away from a career in dance ( a wise move) but I appreciated it nonetheless. I had a bunch of teachers and educators, both at my high school and through the Monash University Student Theatre and CTP faculty (rest in peace, that course) that prodded me just when I needed it or motivated me with their philosophical musings. But honestly, the actors and theatre makers that surround me are a constant source of inspiration and drive. There are so many incredible, hilarious, non-shitty, supernaturally skilled actors working in Melbourne (several of whom you can see if you pop along to the Comedy Of Errors..) that don’t get the credit they deserve.”
The Comedy of Errors is packed with joyous chaos and fun. Pack a picnic and your best company and join ASC for another Shakespeare under the stars at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. “It’s hysterically funny outdoor entertainment,” says Brennan.”What more could you want after months of Zoom and indoor voices. Do come along. I’ll give you a cookie.”
December 18 – February 19