The Merry Wives Of Windsor – September 2008

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Wednesday 10th September 2008

This is another production where I need to spend some time describing the set. Two walkways led out from either side of the stage, and each curved round and came in front of the stage, joining up with a large rectangular platform. Each walkway joined this platform at the sides, but staggered, and with stairs leading down to the pit beside them. The centre of the platform was simple wooden slats to begin with, but during some scenes, the central section rotated to bring up a small knot garden, with a love seat in the middle and a small flower bed in each corner. Very pretty. During the interval, the blank side was replaced with the stump of Herne’s oak, which stayed out of sight till the final scenes, so the garden was on view for most of this half. To give access to the small area between the stage and the platform, there were sections of the walkway which lifted up, I think. Apart from this, the stage was bare, but had the usual tables and chairs brought on as required.

We were in the upper gallery for the first time, and well round the side, so our view was much more restricted than I’m used to at the Globe. (We booked too late – again.) We were facing the right-hand pillar, and much of the performance was hidden by this. We couldn’t see the stage on the near side of the pillar at all, unless we stood up and risked falling on top of the people in front of us, and even then we couldn’t get more than a glimpse. The roof over the stage cut off most of the balcony, so I’m glad these seats were cheaper than usual.

This production, in Elizabethan dress, seemed to concentrate more on the two wives and their revenge on Falstaff. Not that the other parts were lacking in any way, but with Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward as the two wives, and Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff, they were able to get full value out of the marvellous writing. This is the first Merry Wives we’ve seen since the musical version back in January 2007, and the first ‘regular’ one since the touring production in the Swan in 2003! I feel sure I’ve missed one somewhere, but that’s what our records say. Anyway, this version was very musical as well, and occasionally I found this a distraction, as the music started playing a few times before the dialogue had stopped and pretty much drowned it out.

It was a fairly standard production, and apart from Bardolph being completely cut, there were no remarkable stagings to mention, but the performances were very good, and had I been able to see more of them I would probably have rated this higher. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the tricks played on Falstaff, especially the way the two wives were practically incontinent with laughter as they played their ‘roles’ to perfection. That is, they were so over the top that only a fool like Falstaff would believe them, which made the whole thing much funnier. There was some poking and slapping that got a bit out of hand, but it didn’t ruin the ladies’ relationship in the long run. Andrew Havill as Ford/Brook was also excellent, and did a great job with his tortured expressions as the husband learns of his wife’s presumed unfaithfulness. At one point he ducked behind the far pillar, and although I couldn’t see much of him, it was clear he was throwing a serious strop before returning, much calmer, to continue talking with Falstaff.

Despite the difficulties, the dialogue was generally clear, although I felt some of the actors weren’t always including the upper gallery with their performances. I heard the lines about Falstaff sending his page to Mrs Page for the first time tonight (how did I miss them for all these years?), and Mistress Quickly’s prolonged discourse about Mrs Ford’s many lovers was marvellous, with Falstaff itching for her to get to the point. His “be brief” was said with feeling, and got a good laugh. Later on, during the wooing, his difficulties in getting up and down from a kneeling position were good fun, and I reckoned this story not only gave Queen Elizabeth another chance to enjoy Falstaff on stage, but also had relevance to her as a woman who had rebuffed many suitors herself. She probably wished they’d all been as easy to get rid of as Falstaff.

So, not the greatest view, but still an enjoyable performance, and a much better use of the extended stage. We’ll book earlier next time to avoid disappointment.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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