Merry Wives The Musical – January 2007 (2)

10/10

By: William Shakespeare, adapted by Gregory Doran, music by Paul Englishby, lyrics by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by: Gregory Doran

Venue: RST

Date: Saturday 31st January 2007

This was the last time of seeing this musical this time round, and one of the last times we’ll see a play in the main house as it is. Boo hoo. Although, as we were in the Gods, and the seats were neither as comfortable nor gave us as good a view as what we’re used to, the regret isn’t too strong – we’ll manage.

This was not just as good as before, it was even better. Firstly, we knew what to expect – we’d seen such a great performance at the Winter School. Secondly, we had a completely different view, and although we lost some of the detail, especially seeing the expressions, on the other hand we got a much better overview of the action, which helped enormously when there was a lot of action on stage – the final fairy scene, for example, was much clearer, and I suspect it was more due to our position than any change in performance, though of course I can’t be absolutely sure.

Thirdly, knowing this was our last time, and that we’re getting towards the end of the Complete Works Festival, and the end of the main house as we know it, made it all a bit more emotional. I noticed some changes in the performances – as if the cast have relaxed even more into their parts, and with relatively few performances left, are going even further with the business. There was more detail with Mistress Page and the first letter, and I noticed a number of other “upgrades” as we went through, though none I can remember for these notes, sadly – maybe they’ll come back to me later. One point I must note down tonight – the houses rotating into haystacks – I’m not sure if I noted that down before.

Our seats were quite uncomfortable in the first half – less room and less cushioned than downstairs. However, the couple next to us moved for the second half, so we were able to spread ourselves out and it was much easier to relax and enjoy the show. I still think they need to introduce the “Merry Wives” tune in the overture – it’s the main theme, and the one everyone’s going to come out singing or humming to themselves.

The audience seemed quite quiet for the first half – I wasn’t sure if we just weren’t hearing them so well up with the Gods, but they livened up for the second half, so maybe it just took time for them to get warmed up.

I’m still impressed by how well all the characters are introduced. It’s a complicated play, with lots of sub-plots, and although the priest and doctor never get round to exacting their revenge on the landlord of the Garter, everything seems much more straightforward in this version. I like the way Anne Page and Fenton are introduced to us in the traditional way of musical lovers, so we know they’re going to get together at the end. And the introduction of Henry IV dialogue in places makes the Mistress Quickly/Falstaff storyline work much better. So, apart from the quibble about introducing the main theme earlier, I find the whole adaptation pretty brilliant, and I do hope they revive it sometime soon – perhaps when they have the new main house?

One final point – I must remember to have a hanky ready if I see this again – I was sobbing heartily during Ford’s song asking forgiveness from his wife. Lovely.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Merry Wives The Musical – January 2007 (1)

Experience: 10/10

By William Shakespeare, adapted by Gregory Doran, music by Paul Englishby, lyrics by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Gregory Doran

Venue: RST

Date: Friday 5th January 2007

Another big change. This time, the cast seem to have got to grips with the production and given it a good shaking out. Everything gelled tonight. I could hear more of the words, the music fitted with the dialogue better, and the weaker singing voices had strengthened up. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half, and although the energy drops a little in the last quarter, I still found the whole experience much better than first time around. In fact, the musical aspects had improved so much that the “Merry Wives” song no longer seems the highlight that it was!

Specific changes to performances: Slender had developed even more in small touches, including kissing Mr Page when they meet for the first time. Alistair McGowan as Ford seems to be getting more expression into his performance, and his voice has definitely come on. His song to Mrs Page asking for forgiveness was very moving tonight, and I was reminded of The Taming of the Shrew in reverse. We had been warned that Judi Dench did something different every night when coming on at the back of the stage, but tonight was the same as we’d seen before – reacting to the size of the buildings with surprise and confusion.

Our seats were to the right of centre this time, across the aisle, and I actually preferred this, as I found I could see the whole of the stage in one glance, which is absolutely vital in a production where so much goes on. I spotted a lot more detail, although I still missed Dr Cauis’ performance between injecting himself in the neck and falling into the buck basket – if we get to see it again, I must look out for that. I saw so much that I hadn’t before, but I can’t be sure what was new and what I simply missed, so I’ll just include it all in the first set of notes.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Merry Wives The Musical – December 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare, adapted by Gregory Doran. Music by Paul Englishby. Lyrics by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Gregory Doran (does the man ever sleep?)

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 13th December 2006

This was great fun. I tried not to have too high expectations, but it was difficult. The cast was to drool over, Merry Wives can be such fun, and it has the added frisson that this is one of the last two productions we’ll see here before the main house closes for redevelopment. All in all, a mouth-watering, highly charged prospect.

This adaptation and production didn’t disappoint. There’s definitely room for improvement, but it’s off to a good start. We chose to see the winter plays now, and again as part of the Winter School, and we’re already looking forward to seeing this one again. I suspect it will come on for the extra three weeks or so.

The set was lovely. It’s definitely an Elizabethan setting, all gables and oak beams. There are two houses on either side of the stage at the beginning. Chez Page is to our left, while the one opposite may be the Ford’s, though that’s not clear. To make this stage Windsor look more populated, there are false perspective houses towards the back. I was thinking that the actors would have to be careful not to get too close to them, and then a few scenes later, Mistress Quickly (Judi Dench) came on from the back. She did a lovely double take over the size of the buildings compared to her – very entertaining. Just about every part of the set moved to create the other locations; the interior of Ford’s house, the tavern, and the forest. The forest was basically the remaining wooden uprights when the rest of the set had been taken away – a nice, simple way to evoke a wood. Costumes were by Elizabethan out of the 1950’s – an interesting mixture of doublet, hose, and billowing skirts with layered petticoats. It all looked gorgeous.

Performances – all very good. Some quibbles. Judi Dench didn’t entirely convince as Mistress Quickly – a bit too intelligent. But her performance was good, especially the interaction with the houses. Simon Callow as Falstaff was excellent. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t worked here before. He made a great deal of the Shakespearean lines especially, which brought out how entertaining his character can be to others. And his comments on other people’s use of the English language were quite reasonable, given his command of it. Alistair McGowan’s performance as Ford is shaping up very nicely. I would like to see him do more with Brooke, though. Given the range he’s capable of, I would prefer to see more differentiation of the two “characters”, and more of the jealous reaction to Falstaff’s stories. But maybe this wouldn’t fit in with the overall feel of the piece. Haydn Gwynne and Alexandra Gilbreath were fine as the two wives, and took full advantage of the operatic (and even melodramatic) aspects of their roles. Simon Trinder – best Slender I’ve seen, helped by an extra drinking song to open the second half. Paul Chahidi was OK as Dr Cauis – didn’t always get his mangling of English, though. Brendan O’Hea was the best Pistol I’ve seen. Dressed like Russell Brand on a bad hair day, his part came across clearly, and his wooing of Mistress Quickly (they pinched bits from Henry IV part 2 to pad out the story) was great fun.

The music and lyrics were fine, though again I didn’t get all of them. We bought the CD afterwards, so we’ll probably be listening to it a bit before the second viewing. The best songs were the second half opening (a drinking song, where Simon Trinder as Slender gets royally pissed) and the Merry Wives song -a  bit of a hoe-down, catchy tune, and good lyrics. They could do with using this song more in the piece, to pull it together.

I realised there can be problems mixing the musical format and Shakespeare’s language – different rhythms means it can be confusing at first to go from one to the other. Also, I enjoy the original so much, it was a wrench to miss out on some of the dialogue and have to put up with a song instead. Although they did it well, the first gulling of Falstaff lost a lot through being sung, for me. Also, it invites comparison of the writing skills – dangerous territory.

Couple of points to remember – individual eyeshades on Brooke’s sunglasses, and Falstaff and cronies arriving on a half-timbered motorbike. Roll on January.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me