It's not often you find yourself seeing Shakespeare through Australian eyes, but when The Comedy of Errors was on in Bath last week, at the Theatre Royal, my wife insisted we went. She had heard that the Bell Shakespeare company from Australia were doing unusual things with Shakespeare, and if you think that making Shakespearean comedy seem funny is unusual, then she was right. They did a good job on the play, a wonderfully zany job, full of magic, and conjuring, and illusions, and pantomime tricks. Very funny, very enjoyable.
One thing I had forgotten about the play was the odd names of some of the characters. The twins separated at birth who become servants of two men called Antipholus are both called Dromio. Dromio. That's a funny name. The only name I can think of like that is Romeo. "Dromio, Dromio, wherefore art thou Dromio?" ... Doesn't sound quite right, does it? Still, odd name, Dromio. You never meet a name like that in real life.
Or at least I hadn't till this week, when I heard to my astonishment that there is a man in real life called Dromey. Jack Dromey, the treasurer of the Labour Party, who is apparently very upset because behind his back 10 Downing Street is selling off peerages in return for huge loans. Not gifts. Gifts would have to be declared. Loans can be kept secret. And although Dromey has never impinged on my consciousness before, I had heard of his wife, who is Harriet Harman.
And then it struck me how very Shakespearean the whole thing sounds, all this stuff about money and titles and ambition and confusion and Dromey not being told anything. All it needs is for there to be a second person called Dromey rushing round selling peerages for loans, destined some day to meet the other Dromey, and you would have the makings of a new comedy of errors.
The scene is Downing Street, outside No 10. Enter Dromey, treasurer to the Labour Party.
Dromey: My master bids me, find new funds for Labour,
To try to stem our bleeding overdraft.
'Tis all very well to say, build up the coffers -
I'm at my wits' end how to coin more money...!
Enter Garrard, a man in search of a peerage.
Garrard: Ho, there, Dromey! How goes the day?
Dromey: I do not know this man. What can he want?
Garrard: I gathered up the money as thou saidst,
And here it is in banknotes, old and worn,
One million smacker, in this little bag.
Take thou this little "loan", as we agreed,
And let me have my peerage by and by.
Dromey: What peerage? What loan? How dare you, sir!
I never heard of such a rascally thing!
Garrard: And you are right to chide my lack of tact.
Let us pretend that nothing here was said.
Just take the bag, and get my title fixed.
Exit Garrard, pursued by Dromey. The other Dromey now enters.
Dromey II: This was the place to meet the wealthy Garrard,
And take his money for a brand new peerage.
Where can he be? Ah, here is someone now!
Enter a servant.
Servant: Master Dromey, there you are at last!
My mistress, Harriet Harman, that is, your wife,
Bids you to dinner at this very time.
The meal is served, the guests are all arrived.
It only lacks your presence at the feast.
Dromey II: My wife? My wife? I have no wife, you churl!
I am a bachelor boy and fancy free.
Nor do I plan to dine at home tonight.
I take a man called Garrard on a spree!
Servant: Some other evening that may well be so.
Tonight you dine with Harriet, your wife,
Upon your favourite breast of duck with lentils,
She bids me say, to tempt you home on time.
Dromey II: Be off, before I set this stick upon your shoulders
And beat you for your peerless insolence!
Servant: But, sir ...!
Dromey II: Be off ! And tell this Harriet Harman
I have no wish to see her pestilent face!
If the National Theatre are interested, they know where to find me.Reuse content