Tag Archives: Lez Brotherston

Windsor Takes All

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.

The Merry Wives of Windsor production photos_ 2018_2018_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_258364

Rebecca Lacey and Beth Cordingly in Lex Brotherston’s fabulous costumes (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

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Currying Favour

THE EMPRESS

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 18th April, 2013

 

Emma Rice’s production of this new play by Tanika Gupta has Kneehigh running through it like Blackpool through a stick of rock.  All the familiar elements are here: the singing, the puppet children, the music, film projections… giving the story of the experiences of a range of Indian characters in Victorian London both a mythic and a contemporary feel.

This is the black-and-white days, in terms of the palette and also the politics. Abdul Karim (the charming Tony Jayawardena) arrives in England as a gift to Queen Victoria.  Vicky takes to him right away, thanks to his promise to cook curries for her.  He sets about to spice up her life and causes more and more of a stir in the royal household.  This is similar to the film Mrs Brown, in which Vicky cosied up to her equerry, Billy Connolly.  We visit their relationship at various points in the Queen’s final decades, and while Karim becomes more favoured and promoted, the scenes are all rather similar.  Perhaps if Her Maj had been more diffident with him to begin with and he had had to thaw her reserve, the impact of her declaration, in Hindi, that she loves him, might be more striking.

This is also the story of Rani (Anneika Rose) who travels to England as a nanny but is promptly dismissed by her employers as soon as they dock.  Her fortunes rise and fall and rise again, Cinderella in the big city; a Victorian gentlemen takes advantage of her when she impresses him with her culinary skills and throws her out, pregnant and destitute.  We see Rani change from the wide-eyed naive girl to an assured and educated and accomplished woman.  You can almost hear Beyonce saying “You go, girlfriend.”  Her boyfriend Hari (Ray Panthaki) leaves her behind, becoming increasingly politicised thanks to his harsh treatment, before returning for a storybook reunion at the end.  Again, this is a moment that should be more touching.  A madras moment rather than a korma.

Rose carries most of the weight of the piece.  It is through her that we visit the backstreets and underworld of Victorian London.  As she learns about prejudice and the fate of ayahs, we do too.  She gives a likeable performance of a fairytale heroine.  As Queen Vic, Beatie Edney adopts a ‘royal’ intonation, ‘royal we’-ing all over the place and giving the notoriously not-amused monarch a surprisingly girly giggle.  We get a sense of the authority of the woman and also the humanity – I just would have liked this aspect to be coaxed out of her with a little more resistance.

Lez Brotherston’s set evokes a sailing ship and there are monochromatic miniatures of London landmarks.  The floorboard stage is edged by a moat, reminding us of the sea, and the island nation.  After Vicky pops her royal clogs, the cast set fire to little paper boats and float them in this water as tribute.  But there is also a sense of burning boats – Rani, Hari and Karim are on their way back to India, never to return.  This is the kind of moment of theatrical impact Emma Rice does so very well.

Rina Fatania adds comedy as the worldly Firoza.  In the second act when the piece begins to take on a slightly more documentary feel, she gives a speech about her life experiences.  Vincent Ebrahim has dignity as the prospective MP who faces Tory opposition; he, when elected, makes a speech describing the true conditions faced by people ‘liberated’ by colonisation.   It’s all well-presented and well-performed but it’s all a bit soft-edged.  There are lessons to be learned from the past and parallels with the treatment of immigrant workers of today.  Wrapped up in this, admittedly enjoyable, presentation, the story is warming but lacking in bite.

Posh/Spice: Beatie Edney and Tony Jayawardena. Photo: Steve Tanner

Posh/Spice: Beatie Edney and Tony Jayawardena. Photo: Steve Tanner