by Laura Ferguson
While the cast claps and twirls around the stage, the beautiful and detailed costuming entrance me, a magnificent feat by James Kelly. The colours group characters together in easy ways to draw the eye, easing confusion and presenting the cast clearly in familial uniforms. The colours contrasting against the more stark Tudor-housing style of the set, brings out the characters even more and the collaboration between Kelly and director Coleman (who also designed the set) works to the show’s best advantage.
The cast sparkle from the outset, and the Elizabethan English trips evenly from their tongues. The innuendo that Shakespeare sprinkles throughout comes through in every way, tongue in cheek, or cheeks as the case may be. Winks and nods, looks and hand gestures, ‘swords’ and ‘baskets’ all making me giggle and nudge my companion. This is my first experience of The Merry Wives of Windsor, and I’m enjoying myself immensely.
The core cast all give amazing performances; I take a particular shine to Louisa McKerrow’s and Julia Harris’ portrayals of Mistresses Ford and Page respectively. The pair of them scheming against Paul Kay’s brilliant Falstaff making the comedy of the play excellently rendered. It is clear that we, the audience are on their side, as we laugh with them as they plan to ridicule Falstaff. Like Mistresses Ford and Page, we also laugh at Falstaff, his fatuous nature the butt of most jokes. The women’s gleeful revenge working alongside Falstaff’s outrage at their actions induces hearty laughter and grinning faces.
Of all the marvellous cast, though, Katie Boyle steals near every scene she was in and illuminates the stage whenever she comes on it. Boyle’s diction and use of the Elizabethan language is incredible. Every line is delivered with a grace that made it seem as if it was natural to her and her comedic timing even more so. The way she conversed with every suitor to Mistress Ann Page was sublime, encouraging them in their pursuit of her friend while pocketing their money as a means to maintain her aid. Boyle’s character is calculating and manipulative, but she is so likeable, you forgive her instantly.
The Merry Wives of Windsor in this version, does well to keep the tradition of the Tudor period alive. While this play is a rollicking good time, if modernised, the themes of women being treated as property and the misogynistic overtones that women are only interested in the trivialities of life would grate intensely. Coleman’s decision to keep such morals in a bygone era was well chosen, suggesting such ideals have no place in modern life.
The Merry Wives of Windsor shows a new side to Shakespeare, his naughtier, more tawdry side. The visual rendering of the “wearing the horns of a cuckold” (oh, you fool, Falstaff) is very entertaining. So sure of himself that a woman would betray her husband for him, Falstaff dresses as a deer and then punished by fairies gives me shivers of satisfaction. With the execution being fantastic and the cast superb, I left debating with my friend what revenge we would wreak if set upon by Falstaff. That man is lucky to be stuck in the 16th-century, but I am glad this play survives to be shown today.
Stagecraft’s The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at the Gryphon Theatre from the 15th – 25th of March at 7:30pm. Tickets can be found at www.iticket.co.nz