THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
by William Shakespeare.
Wadham College Gardens Parks Road OX1 3PN To 16 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Run s 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 July.
Seething desire and jealousy in an English village, switching dramatically to the natural world.
It had to happen. After the hottest, driest spell England’s seen for years, the rain came five minutes before events kicked-off, returning periodically throughout the evening, threatening to turn this into The Muddy Wives of Windsor.
Still they battled on, Sir John’s bare torso wet less from his dunking in the Thames than the evening’s weather, audience members huddling under umbrellas or taking shelter under trees.
It might be thought little loss, for Merry Wives comes way down the Shakespeare canon, reputedly a side-creation to satisfy monarchic longing for another sight of Falstaff. Though here, as J B Priestley observed, he’s nothing like the force he was in Henry IV.
So Gemma Fairlie rightly treats her production as a light comedy, while revelling in the doubling her small but energetic and capable cast requires. Action, not speech, propels things (can you quote a line from this play? Thought not). But its comedy touches on one of Shakespeare’s major interests, the ridiculous nature of jealousy.
It leads to humiliation, and a suggestion of shifting power in a marriage, when unjustly suspected Alice Ford insists her suspicious husband takes steps towards her – recalling The Taming of the Shrew’s final scene, recently seen yards down the road, on tour from Shakespeare’s Globe.
There’s little room in Shakespeare or this swift-paced production for the more trusting Page marriage, while the Pages’ defeated rivalry over mismatching their daughter Anne is lost in the dominance of Falstaff’s punishment in the final scene.
Yet Fairlie, and Wadham, score here, as the stalls of Windsor’s fête are taken down and fairy lights suddenly illumine trees behind, nature taking-over from tame garden-party.
It’s a magical moment in more than one sense. And Fairlie has fun with acknowledgments of the audience, plus recognisable imports, from Pistol and Nym reborn as two yoofs adopting Black street-style innit, to the evocation of a famous You Tube sequence that might have come from Windsor’s deer-park and works through a happy coincidence of name.
Amiable and accessible to first-time Shakespeare-goers, Oxford Shakespeare Company’s show creates a happy summer evening for (predominantly young) Oxford audiences.
Fenton/Shallow/Slender: David Alwyn.
Alice Ford/Pistol: Katharine Bennett-Fox.
Meg Page/Nym: Sarah Goddard.
Mistress Quickly/Sir Hugh Evans: Heather Johnson.
Frank Ford/Sir Hugh Evans: David McKechnie.
Sir John Falstaff/Host of the Garter Inn: Jack Taylor.
Anne Page/Robin: Rachel Waring.
George Page/Dr Caius: Rob Witcomb.
Director: Gemma Fairlie.
Composers/Arrangers/Musical Directors: James D Reid, Nick Lloyd Webber.
Costume: Adrian Lillie.
Welsh accent coach: Nia Davies.