25 March 2016

The Merry Wives at the Rose Theatre was a laugh out loud riot of a play

Whatever the thinking was behind renaming The Merry Wives of Windsor to just The Merry Wives it managed to confuse me and so I almost missed a Shakespeare play being performed in my nearest theatre.

The Rose Theatre is still pretty terrible at publicity, obviously they have either not read my previous moans on this subject or they have chosen to ignore them, and so it was rather late in the day that I discovered that this was on and despite the new name was with the original Shakespeare text.  This is a play that I was always going to want to see at a theatre that I try to see as many things as I can to support it and it frustrates me that I find out about some of the shows there very late and it worries me that I am missing some altogether. They seem to put all their publicity effort into their productions and little into anything else.

I have booked to see something else there in April, Ockham's Razor Tipping Point, and I also found out about that show by accident and I saw nothing to promote it at the theatre on this evening, just a few weeks before the show.

I suspect that I was lucky with a cancellation and I managed to buy a seat in my preferred area, Stalls Row A Seat 44 at £25, just a couple of days before the performance. Being Good Friday would not have helped but I suspect that other people were misled by the publicity or did not see it and the audience was fairly small with the central section almost full but few people on either side. This was a shame as both the theatre and this production deserve better and a Shakespearean comedy should have been ideal fare for the Easter holiday period.

I had not seen The Merry Wives (of Windsor) before but I had seen the operatic version, Falstaff by Verdi at Glyndebourne, so I knew something of the story. It mixes a comedy about love and a straight love story.

In the main story Falstaff tries it on with two married women and writes them identical love letters. Unfortunately they are close friends and share the letters, they then plan to get their revenge by staging incidents where Falstaff would come to see one of them then a husband would return unexpectedly and he'd leave by an ignominious and embarrassing method. Meanwhile one of the husbands, using an alternative name, was asking Falstaff for his advice about his suspicions over his wife's infidelity only to have Falstaff boast about the assignations he had lined up with his wife.

In the other lesser story a young heiress is promised by her two parents to two different suitors but is in love with a third man who is earnest but penniless (relatively).

The two stories collide in the final scene and, no surprise, everything ends happily. But it was not the ending that mattered it was the journey there and that was a journey rich with bawdy humour and strong personalities.

The production did lots of things well and cleverly used the same simple set throughout with just a few tables and chairs coming and going to denote the different scenes. A great exception to the no-prop rule was the use of a forklift to carry out the basket of washing in which Falstaff was hiding after the two men charged with the task were unable to lift it.

Making it all happen delightfully was a large cast headed by Barry Rutter as Sir John Falstaff, he also directed it. The Merry Wives, Supporting him Nicola Sanderson and Becky Hindley were splendid as they planned and set their traps for Falstaff. The rest of the cast all played their parts well in teasing the most from the situations and the personalities.

The Merry Wives was a laugh out loud riot of a play which entertained mightily and in so many ways. The perfect antidote to a wet and windy Bank Holiday.

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