Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Barry Rutter
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s lesser performed plays. There is good reason for this. Very few people like to hear a bad word said about the bard but The Merry Wives isn’t his best work. It’s a bit barmy.
The plot revolves around Sir John Falstaff (of the Henry plays) and his attempts to woo two wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, get some of their money and cuckold their husbands. Meanwhile numerus lovers are in the running for Mistress Page’s daughter, Anne Page’s hand in marriage. And thus the silliness commences.
Northern Broadsides put on a fast paced, energetic production. Director Barrie Rutter, who also takes on the role of Falstaff, has worked on ‘squeezing every last ounce of comedy’ out of the play with a fair slathering of slapstick and direction that draws striking similarity to that of the Carry On films of the 1960s. The comedy is played on so much that it feels like, at times, this production is over-milking the cow. As if the audience is being told where to laugh rather than finding the comedy for themselves.
The individual cast performances are on the whole enjoyable; Rutter makes a charmingly conniving Falstaff while Nicola Sanderson and Becky Hindley as Mistresses Page and Ford put on stellar performances as the happy-go-lucky pair plotting against the ‘Fat Knight’. Ben Burman and Mark Stratton as Pistol and the Host of the Garter push the theatricality of their performances a bit too far but one supposes they are working within the directorial concept and can be forgiven.
Designer Lis Evans’ early 1900’s inspired costume is quite striking and works well with the production concept. The cast are adorned in cricket and tennis whites on the whole and the sporting attire and props (including a beautiful range of bicycles and the odd croquet hammer) give a wonderful middle to upper class English feel to the performance. The silliness, setting and Benny Hill feel of the work epitomizes the ‘Englishness’ of the production.
This is a watchable play, indeed funny if you can forgive the over-the-top feel of the work. However the last scene where the ‘faeries’ appear goes a bit beyond silliness and into the realms of ridiculous. The superstitious elements of Shakespeare’s work such as Faeries (pretend or otherwise), witches and ghosts are tricky to get right for a 21st Century audience and this scene just feels like a rather juvenile end to the play.
If you are after an easy watch or want to be introduced to Shakespeare in a more light-hearted manner rather than sitting through a three hour tragedy then this is recommended. If you prefer your Shakespeare with a little more bite then maybe skip this one out. Northern Broadsides The Merry Wives really is a matter of taste.
Runs until Saturday 28May, 2016 | Image: Contributed