THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 17th August, 2018
Fiona Laird’s joyous staging of Shakespeare’s farcical comedy turns out to be the funniest RSC production of the Bard in a long while. Blending the Tudor with contemporary Essex (familiar from so-called reality television), the design manages to be both traditional and fresh (the skeletal Tudor buildings are everything!), yielding delightful costume choices, designed from scratch by Lez Brotherston. Check out Mistress Ford’s high collar and skinny-fit trousers in the illustration below. This aesthetic enables David Troughton’s Sir John Falstaff to sport a John Bull waistcoat over a pair of baggy slops – with an ever-present, priapic codpiece. Later, his anyone-for-tennis garb highlights how old-fashioned his brand of lechery is; he is an interloper in this glamorous suburbia, and the women, complete with TOWIE accents and dress sense, are empowered totally. The play is an antidote to the problematic sexual politics of The Taming of the Shrew.
Troughton’s Falstaff is everything you could want in the Fat Knight, brought low by his appetites – which is a staple of comedy: to mock Man for his baser desires. Ruling the roost, running rings around Falstaff and tying him in Windsor knots are Beth Cordingly as Mistress Ford, and Rebecca Lacey as Mistress Page. Their machinations belie the Essex stereotype of the dim-witted glamourpuss unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. Their attire may be in dubious taste but their characters and antics are to be admired. Cordingly and Lacey are clearly having a great time – and this enjoyment transfers to the audience.
Indeed, the watchword of the production is Fun. We know the plot is convoluted nonsense but we are able to take such delight in this retelling, thanks in no small part to the comedic skills of a talented ensemble. Jonathan Cullen’s French doctor Caius would put Inspecteur Clouseau to shame with his mangling of the English language and his histrionic carryings-on; Vince Leigh’s Ford dons a ridiculous nose-and-glasses disguise, along with a compare-the-meerkat accent. Subtle, it ain’t, but it works magnificently. David Acton is also a hoot as Welsh parson, Sir Hugh, while Ishia Bennison’s Mistress Quickly and Katy Brittain’s Hostess of the Garter (all big hair and leopard print) are hilarious creations. Tom Padley is spot on as thick-as-a-brick Slender, more than a little reminiscent of ‘celebrity’ Joey Essex in his delivery; Karen Fishwick’s Ann Page is all duck-face pouts into her smartphone and teenage surliness. Tim Samuels is nasally officious as Shallow, the Justice of the Peace, while Josh Finan makes an impression as Falstaff’s rugby-shirted follower, Nym.
The playing is as broad as the accents and Laird imbues the show with a knockabout style that suits the age-old comedic conventions of the piece, mixed with some present-day references to keep things fresh. The traditional laundry basket is supplanted by a big pink wheelie bin, and it works brilliantly. Surely, even the most stuck-in-the-mud purist would chuckle. Similarly, an action sequence in which Falstaff, disguised as the Fat Witch of Brentwood, is roundly chased off the premises, is a moment of chaotic, cartoonish bliss. His parting shot, a quote from Dick Emery, reminds us how out-of-synch he is with this world.
I would like more to be made of the spooking of Falstaff in the final act; the scene seems to be over too quickly but, for the rest of it, the pacing is impeccable, and Laird’s attention to detailed comic business is superb. She has also graced the production with an original score of her own composition, blending period flavours with contemporary beats and sit-com stylings. It is delicious.
A wildly entertaining romp, triumphantly hilarious, this is a Merry Wives to savour.
Rebecca Lacey and Beth Cordingly in Lex Brotherston’s fabulous costumes (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Leave a comment | tags: Beth Cordingly, David Troughton, Fiona Laird, Ishia Bennison, Jonathan Cullen, Josh Finan, Karen Fishwick, Lez Brotherston, Rebecca Lacey, review, RSC, Stratford upon Avon, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Tom Padley, Vince Leigh, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Theatre Review
THE JEW OF MALTA
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th April, 2015
Christopher Marlowe’s play, which has a Jew as the villain, is not staged anywhere near as often as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – perhaps we find Shylock more palatable to our modern sensibilities. While we can understand the motivation of Marlowe’s Barabas, his path of vengeance and destruction renders him inhuman – psychopathic, even.
Forced to surrender his fortune in order to pay the state’s protection money to the Turks, Barabas soon bounces back, and sends his spirited daughter Abigail undercover as a nun into the nunnery his house has been turned into, to dig up his secret stash of gems and gold. With these he is able to rebuild his fortune – but that is not enough. He embarks on a plan of revenge on all those who have wronged him. The son of the governor is set up in a duel with a rival that ends fatally. A priest is framed for the murder of a friar. The nuns are wiped out by poisoned porridge…
It’s melodramatic stuff but Justin Audibert directs with a sense of humour and the result is a very black comedy indeed. As the titular Jew, Jasper Britton portrays a delicious kind of evil in a compelling performance. He is aided and abetted by his henchman, Ithamore (Lanre Malaolu, who uses physicality to add humour to his characterisation). Catrin Stewart is powerful as Barabas’s loud and strident daughter and there is excellent support from Matthew Needham as pimp to Beth Cordingly’s jaded hooker, Bellamira. Marcus Griffiths cuts a dash as the imperious Turk, Calymath, while Geoffrey Freshwater and Matthew Kelly vie amusingly with each other for Barabas’s soul and gold coins as two supposedly holy men. Particularly striking is Annette McLaughlin as Katherine, grieving for her murdered son.
Oliver Fenwick’s sunny lighting gives us the brightness and warmth of the Maltese climate, bouncing off Lily Arnold’s paving stone set. Jonathan Girling’s music, performed live, is both evocative and beautiful, and the fight sequences by Kevin McCurdy have the front rows flinching in their seats.
Marlowe gives his villain all the best lines – Barabas is able to be scathing about religion and people who profess to be Christians but behave contrary to their faith (reminding me of our current and hopefully outgoing government!). “Religion hides many mischiefs from suspicion,” says Barabas. He is not wrong.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable production in which Barabas’s victims deserve what’s coming to them. Moving along at a cracking pace, with plenty of laughs and shocks along the way, the show is as entertaining as you could wish.
To hear the word ‘Jew’ as an insult and disparaging term, makes us wince. We like to feel we are more inclusive and that there is less anti-Semitism around – but then I recall that only the other day the Tories had to sack one of their own for saying she would never support ‘the Jew Ed Miliband’ and I despair.
Jasper Britton (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
1 Comment | tags: Annette McLaughlin, Beth Cordingly, Catrin Stewart, Christopher Marlowe, Geoffrey Freshwater, Jasper Britton, Jonathan Girling, Justin Audibert, Kevin McCurdy, Lanre Malaolu, Lily Arnold, Marcus Griffiths, Matthew Kelly, Matthew Needham, Oliver Fenwick, review, RSC, Stratford upon Avon, The Jew of Malta, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 27th April, 2015
There’s often a reason why a play isn’t performed for centuries: it’s not very good or its day has come and gone and there is nothing of relevance to it. With this in mind, I settle into my seat at the RSC’s Swan and try to keep an open mind.
John Ford (you know, him – he wrote Tis Pity She’s A Whore) gives us a tragedy, the likes of which opera has been thriving on for yonks. Two best friends, one woman, loved by both but married by one… It can only end badly.
Matthew Needham is excellent as The Duke, whose emotions are never far from the surface. He is an exuberant hedonist, when things are going his way, but there is the suggestion he could become unhinged at any moment – we see flashes of his violent temper. His bride Bianca (Catrin Stewart) is perky and lively, and obeys her husband’s instructions to treat his bff Fernando (Jamie Thomas King) like a second husband, in all ways except one, of course! Bianca and Fernando get the hots for each other but never consummate their passion, despite a few stolen moments – enough to get the villain of the piece plotting and scheming. Stewart and King go through the anguishes of love without the pleasure, matching Needham’s emotional outpourings in intensity. As the villain D’Avolos, Jonathan McGuinness is a snide and unctuous presence, Iago with an admin job – and it almost looks like he will get away with it.
There is a couple of subplots, one of which ends horribly. Arrogant womaniser Ferentes (Andy Apollo making an impression) gets his comeuppance in a masque, when three of his conquests decide to have a stab at vengeance. Superannuated fop Mauriccio (an exquisite Matthew Kelly) has a happier ending – if banishment and marriage are anything to go by – and his relationship with Brummie servant Giacopo (Colin Ryan) is both funny and touching. Kelly and Ryan are a little and large double act with perfect comic timing – I find I am more moved by the resolution to their story than I am to the main plot.
Beth Cordingly is strong as strident widow Fiormonda, and Marcus Griffiths’s Roseilli, banished but comes back disguised as a simpleton, cuts a dash, but is too removed from the main action – This is a fault of the writer.
On the whole, it’s a watchable, rewarding piece with passions running as high as the production values and well worth sacrificing an evening to see. Anna Fleischle’s design conveys the period beautifully, but the projections on the back wall add little beyond mood lighting – I am too busy watching the actors to take much notice of these effects. There is, for my taste, a little too much of the discordant music. Director Matthew Dunster interrupts the action with interludes of dumb show – I could do without these. He also adds many humorous touches, heightening the comedy to match the intensity of the drama.
Many of the plot points can be traced to Shakespeare but I come away thinking about the great Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega, a playwright The Swan would do well to feature – in translation, of course!
Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…
(Colin Ryan and Matthew Kelly. Photo: Helen Maybanks)
1 Comment | tags: Andy Apollo, Anna Fleischle, Beth Cordingly, Catrin Stewart, Colin Ryan, Jamie Thomas King, John Ford, Jonathan McGuinness, Love's Sacrifice, Marcus Griffiths, Matthew Dunster, Matthew Kelly, Matthew Needham, review, RSC, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review