Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Merry Wives of Windsor Review

The Merry Wives of Windsor
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Of all the plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor has to be my favorite Shakespeare play. Although I keep hearing that it is not the best play he had ever written, I just love the fact that this is a farce that includes Falstaff, two plotting wives, a laundry basket, jealousy, romance, and humiliation within the English town of Windsor. A perfect alternative to pantomime at Christmas. This production was therefore the one I was most looking forward to during the RSC's winter season.

This a great production performed by a stellar cast. Desmond Barrit was brilliant as the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff. He was quite the bombastic knave, and it was clear that age was catching up with this weary character (if one is to assume that the play is a direct sequel to the Henry IV plays). Returning to the role of Mistress Ford after performing in the 2006 musical adaptation is Alexandra Gilbreath, and together with Sylvestra Le Touzel as Mistress Page the pair make for a bawdy couple of wives.

John Ramm meanwhile presented Master Ford's jealousy with aplomb. Anita Dobson was good as Mistress Quickly, though her tone of voice did drag after a while. The rest of the cast did well in playing a diverse variety of Windsor residents, from ruffian to lover and French to Welsh. They were however rather overshadowed by director Phillip Breen's elaborate decisions in presenting Windsor.

Being set in a typically English town, the play would seem to demand that the set be adorned with timber framed Tudor building and anything that defines England. Director Phillip Breen though goes further in this present day setting by fitting in pubs, rugby posts, telephone boxes, sign posts and what not. The problem with this is that on a thrust stage these elaborate sets feel cumbersome and at times the scene changes take too long. What is more his staging of scenes occasionally feel awkward, particularly at the end.

He also had a tendency to stop the show at times for laughs. For instance, Falstaff's first wooing scene was taken up by an unnecessary music sequence. The sub-plot about the humiliation of the Host of the Garter Inn was even blown up into one extended joke, where the inn was given a German themed make-over.

Despite these problems it had been a long time since I had seen the play and I was eagerly anticipating the production. In all seriousness the cast used every effort into overcoming the issues with the set to bring a riotous Merry Wives of Windsor. Go and enjoy it at a low Top Price.

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