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THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR – Coram’s Fields, London.

Often cited as one of Shakespeare’s less popular comedies and originally set under the reign of Henry IV, the Merry Wives of Windsor might seem a difficult piece to adapt for the modern audience. Principal Theatre company’s open air production is set during the excitement and bedlam of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and features a community street party in 1977. It reimagines the middle class tensions of Windsor and paints a more suburban and edgy picture of lust, wealth and social class whilst still squeezing out all of Shakespeare’s original humour. Throw into the mix an ironic British soundtrack of the seventies, some crossdressing and some clever staging and the scene is set for a summer’s evening of madness and hilarity.

Larger than life characterisations pervade the comedic proceedings led by Paul Gladwin as Falstaff; whose tawdry attempts to court the wealthy Mistresses Page and Ford are a ludicrous visual spectacle. The comic timing and repertoire between Mistress Ford and Mistress Page is absolutely spot on as they plot together against Falstaff’s advances. Emily Bairstow’s performance as Mistress Ford is both mouthy and electric . This contrasts well with Mistress Page (played by Roseanna Morris) who flits between goofiness and sophistication with an effortless eccentric flair and a consistent twinkle in the eye which carries a lot of the comedic scenes. Other standout performances come from Andrew Stafford- Baker as gruff yet loveable Cockney Master George Page and from Lauren Anthony as a bubbly, excitable Mistress Quickly.

Musically directed by Ruth Clarke Irons, this production weaves in instruments, harmonies, and musical related jokes throughout which adds to the modernization of the text. Particular highlights include the ensemble’s rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the second act and Master Fenton’s (played by Max Panks) musical wooing of Anne which was musical theatre at it’s most uplifting. In the open air, the use of instruments and ensemble vocals works marvellously and the cast even had the audience clapping along in the second act.

With such a chaotic plot and a gag heavy script, it would be easy for all actors on stage to remain one dimensional and rely on humour. However, there are no caricatures except where absolutely necessary; such as Zoe Littleton’s performance as Simple which is very entertaining. There are also some nice moments between the actors such as Mistress Page’s eventual decision to let her daughter marry for love which ground the piece and give it more light and shade.

This production is sophisticated; without taking itself too seriously and the cast engaged with the audience and remained on the right side of humour throughout. The paciness, energy and attention to the text drives the plot . Lighthearted, and skillfully put together Principal Theatre’s production is comedic Shakespeare at it’s most accessible and enjoyable.

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Reviewed 19/07/14

By Emily Mae Winters
@emilymaewinters

17th July – 2nd August 2014
Coram’s Fields, London, WC1.

 

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