THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th December, 2011
Oddsocks’s winter production this year is quite possibly their most bonkers show to date. They set Shakespeare’s sit-com in a television studio in the 1950s, complete with static cameras and equally static cameramen. We are present at a “live broadcast” – the company (usually the Pembroke Players but here the Television Repertory Company) mingles with the audience and perform a warm-up song in appropriate doo-wop style, complete with washboard. Scene transitions are covered with black and white commercials on the large TV screen, extolling the many and varied virtues of Mrs Quickly’s wonder-product, a creation to rival Lily The Pink’s medicinal compound.
We are watching actors playing actors performing a TV play. This remove allows for all sorts of silliness and frame-breaking in the usual Oddsocks style. I won’t spoil any of the surprises because the tour is still ongoing but the postmodern slant doesn’t end with a touch of Acorn Antiques– there is a Bollywood influence at play too, that is bizarre given the context but none the less hilarious. It all serves to bring out the farcical elements of the plot, which has never been one of my favourites. Given this kind of treatment, it works very well indeed.
The cast of only five divvy up the characters, necessitating some quick changes and broad characterisations that add to the fun. Andrew McGillan, a regular player, gives us a teddy-boy Fenton (although he is not involved in the stag scene – a pity given the topical currency of the name) and an almost spherical Falstaff who is more like Elvis in his final years. Avita Jay’s Mrs Ford is melodramatic in a sari, while her Anne Page is a bobbysoxer in Capri pants. Taresh Solanki brings a touch of the Goodness Gracious Me’s to Mister Page, and I was especially tickled (not like that) by Paul O’Neill doubling as a Fawltyesque Mister Ford and a nerdish Master Slender. Cream of the crop, as ever, is the formidable Elli Mackenzie as the ubiquitous Mrs Quickly and a Victoria Wood-like Mrs Page. There is a scene with a Bendix Gyromatic washing machine that is indelibly printed on my memory.
Director and adaptor Andy Barrow is obviously a very clever and very silly man. Oddsocks Productions have come so far that their shows are no longer just a way to have some fun with Shakespeare, they are an event in themselves. The packed-out Arena theatre contained many repeat customers and, I am sure, some new converts to the cause.