by Laura Ferguson
Katie Boyle is thoroughly accomplished in the Shakespearean realm of performance having previously had experience as an actress for the Pop-Up Globe. She has brought various Shakespeare characters to life and I always look forward to the particular vivaciousness that she brings to the roles. This show is no different. As The Merry Wives of Windsor begins, Boyle strides out, getting straight into the action. The lines are given with precision and Boyle’s comedic timing is already making me laugh as she hits the notes of wit while heavily accentuating the bawdiness of the comedy.
The direction of Alexander Sparrow is immediately noticeable as the keen eye behind how Boyle distinguishes between characters by changing physicality, making them easy to tell apart. Boyle uses her hands particularly well in this regard with the character of Sir John Falstaff, resting them just so upon a protruding stomach, a froggish set to her mouth. This personification together with the dull, wary look of the drunk and guileless, introduces us to the fool of the piece. I absolutely love how Boyle portrays Falstaff, highlighting him for the gross selfish braggart of a man, ensuring we hold no sympathy for the character. He deserves the mischief that befalls him, the tricks played on him throughout the show racking up raucous laughter from the audience..
Sparrow and Boyle have created a distinct cast out of a single person. Boyle’s vocal talents issuing high-pitched wispiness for Mistress Ford while a kind of southern farmer booming becomes Mister Page. I can’t help but marvel at Boyle’s prowess with not only acting ability, but her expertise wielding the Shakespeare text. This is no mere recitation, the story comes alive with chase scenes that involve running through the audience, extravagant pumping motions to excitedly illustrate the sexual innuendo and fourth-wall breaking asides to the audience: “Go on, Kiss my hand,” Boyle encourages us and when the audience member leans forward to oblige, Boyle retracts quickly, “Oh no, don’t, I’m really sweaty!” A hilarious out-of-character moment that has us in stitches.
This Merry Wives of Windsor is a cinched version of the main storyline and does away with the side plot of who will marry Miss Anne Page. This streamlines the show well and makes it easier for us to keep track of who is who, though it would still be a good idea to run through a synopsis on Wikipedia is you are unfamiliar with the text before seeing the show. My partner had not seen or read this play before but managed to muddle along despite Middle English not being very familiar to them. However, there may be a programme for future shows.
Boyle and Sparrow’s version of this tale is irresistibly funny, and a wondrous spectacle to watch. I will be looking forward to its season at the Gryphon Theatre later this year and am curious to see how they further elevate the show with lighting and perhaps stage props. I am sure it will be a merry time.