Fast, fresh and funny – just as farce should be
By Narelle Wood
The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare, (almost) as it should be; there are minimal sets and theatre-in-the-round style seating – the only differences are modern costumes, a roof on the theatre, female actors and a One Direction reference or two.
It’s not a play that I’m familiar with, but it follows all the main plot points of a classic Shakespearean farce that makes it instantly recognisable. The farce is based on making a mockery of John Falstaff (Tom Considine) who declares that he shall seduce not one but two of the wives of Windsor. The wives of Windsor, Mistress Ford (Carole Patullo) and Mistress Page (Helen Hopkins), upon hearing this decide that revenge through humiliation will be a befitting antidote for Falstaff’s lustful and presumptuous ways. As is the case in most Shakespearean plays, the minor characters wield havoc as they manipulate and betray each of their masters, and this results in the one not-so-merry husband of Windsor (Master Ford played by James Wardlaw) planning an entrapment of his own to prove his wife unfaithful. Meanwhile several suitors vie for Anne Page’s (Jing-Xuan Chan) hand in marriage, which adds to the intrigue as lies are told and deceit unfolds.
There is so much going on in this play, with twists in plot and a number of soliloquys and asides, that the minimalist approach of basic set and lighting is a welcomed relief. For the most part the Shakespearean language fluidly rolled off the casts’ tongues, as would be expected of actors of this calibre, but it also means that the dialogue is unapologetically fast. There is also an unexpected challenge in deciphering the Bard’s prose; Shakespearean language mixed with a Hugh Evans’ well-articulated Welsh accent made sure I was definitely concentrating on what was being said.
The actors all played multiple characters, with small costume changes signalling the character changes, and they all effortlessly morph from idiot suitor to jock-houseboy, from simple houseboy to jealous husband or whatever other transformations are required. The actors, under Rob Conkie’s direction, also make impressive use of the space; not once, even with the actors’ directing their attention to the other seating areas, did I feel excluded from the performance. The farcical nature of the plot was often reflected in the physical performances of the characters, gesticulating, groping or gyrating for humorous effect.
It’s hard to shy away from Shakespeare in a year that marks the 400th anniversary of his death. There will be a lot of Shakespeare on offer but The Merry Wives of Windsor is an amusing tale and this production makes for a very merry evening indeed.
Venue: Fortyfive Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne
Season: Until Sunday 1st May, Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full $38| Conc $28