MERRY WIVES at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival August 2020. Photo by Laura Harling

The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Roman Theatre | Review

MERRY WIVES at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival August 2020. Photo by Laura Harling
MERRY WIVES at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival August 2020. Photo by Laura Harling

Panto season might be cancelled, but with its bright and colourful costumes, audience participation and pop songs galore, Adam Nichols’ wonderfully camp production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is a real outdoor treat. As part of its double bill in OVO’s season, it’s playing back-to-back with Henry V, perhaps of note that that’s two of Shakespeare’s plays I’ve neither seen nor read before. Potentially a brave move to programme a double bill of two of the lesser popular plays to an audience already feeling a bit discombobulated being back out in public after a period of lockdown. That being said, like Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor is played for all the fun and frivolity that we so deserve right now.

The plot is a rather farcical adventure for the mischievous clown John Falstaff (Lachlan McCall) who is slowly punished by some of the town’s women after trying to seduce them. It doesn’t hold a huge amount of deep substance, and is believed to have largely been written to entertain Elizabeth I. Nichols’ production is relocated to the 1980s, music played live by up-and-coming rock beat combo band the ‘Spirit of Wantonness’. McCall plays Falstaff as a boisterous and fairly uncouth rockstar past his prime, commanding the stage right from his initial crashing onto the set.

Including cheesy pop song hits such as ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ and ‘Time of my Life’, which hilariously parodies that famous Dirty Dancing scene, this is very much a show that wants you clapping and mouthing along to the tunes. It’s a bit of a stretch at times, but the songs are just about contextualised in their moments, even if it does result in the musical numbers sometimes offering more entertainment than the story itself.

Act 4 traditionally sees Falstaff being dumped into the river after he’s hidden in a laundry basket. Simon Nicholas’ set replaces the basket with a brightly coloured dustbin. The physical comedy is a bit slapdash and I think given this is the key bit of slapstick in the show I would’ve liked to have seen a routine that was more precise in its timing and execution. That being said, the idea of rolling the bin right over the top of the theatre and down a hill worked effectively in the playing space and made for a bit of silliness.

Like a good pantomime, there’s also a tonne of local references, characters confusing various towns in Hertfordshire and the infamous ‘tart of Tring’. Isabella Javor as Stella Quickly creates a fantastic rapport with the audience, leading us in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone before launching into an energetic rendition of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’. I also really wanted to see and hear more of Jo Servi, whose suave and charming demeanour made a real impact towards the beginning of the show as Robert Shallow.

Simon Nicholas’ set does well to make use of the space it has, particularly with a burger bar cabin which conceals a section of textual innuendo, before the front pops open to give the joke a well-worth-the-wait physical punchline. Although Adam Bottomley’s lighting design is largely lost in daylight hours, having seen a couple of production shots from the night-time performance, I’d say it’s worth sitting through an evening chill for.

Best of all, the cast’s excitement to be performing again for a live audience infectiously pervades the summer air. It’s a lot of fun, and in a slick 90-minutes with song and dance a-plenty leaves you travelling home after the show with a big fat grin in your face.

4 Stars

Review by Joseph Winer

A summer music festival. A bunch of 80s rockers on the comeback trail. And an ageing lothario who is about to get his comeuppance.

Shakespeare meets Spinal Tap as this classic middle-class comedy gets the full OVO treatment with a live 80s soundtrack, tight trousers and big hair.

Featuring 80s supergroup Spirit of Wantonness performing classics from the decade including Bonnie Tyler, Heart, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses.

A riotous adaptation of what is often seen as the world’s first situation comedy by OVO‘s award-winning Artistic Director Adam Nichols.

TOM CAGNONI – Brian Bardolph
JO SERVI – Robert Shallow
LACHLAN MCCALL – John Falstaff
WILL PATTLE – Abraham Slender
CELESTE COLLIER – Scarlet Pistol
ZAK ROBINSON – Quentin Fenton
EMMA WRIGHT – Alice Ford
ISABELLA JAVOR – Stella Quickly

Creative Team
TOM CAGNONI – Musical Director
RYAN MUNROE – Choreography
HONOR KLEIN – Stage Manager
BECKY BROWN – Production Manager

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Adam Nichols
14th – 31st August 2020


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