The Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Performed by The University Of Northampton School of The Arts BA (HONS) Acting
Directed by Emily Jenkins
So it’s another afternoon of Shakespeare for me today and that suites me just fine. Written in 1601, and first performed in about 1660, I was expected women in long dresses, men in doublet and hose, the whole 9 Elizabethan 9 yards.
Surprise! I was met with three amazing women dressed like Rosie The Riveter in 1940 style dress rocking out Summertime followed by The Lady is a Tramp and I get a kick out of you! I had no idea that I was being entertained by Nim, Bardolph and Pistol, Sir John Falstaff’s followers. What a truly astonishing start to a play by Shakespeare. He would have approved I am sure.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a total romp from beginning to end and tells the tale of how Sir John Falstaff (my lookalike) is made to look a complete fool by the two wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, he is attempting to woo. At this point I would like to point out that the word woo, should be used more often. Try saying it. It sounds great. Anyway, at the end, Sir John is shown up for the buffoon he really is but amazingly, he is forgiven and even taken into the homes of the men he tried to cuckold. Perhaps this is not so surprising as The Bard managed to weave this very fat penniless knight into not less than three of his magnificent plays.
While the whole play is a true ensemble piece, I would like to review some of the main characters. They are not in any order, neither in importance or appearance.
Sir John Falstaff (Stuart Warren). Stuart is obviously a big lad but there is an awful lot of padding to give him the girth of the fat rogue. Quite how he didn’t die of heat exhaustion in the furnace of The Underground I don’t know. Stuart gave Falstaff a real physical workout throughout the performance and kept it going right up to the end. Great acting and I will never forget the look on his face when being beguiled by Mistress Quickly as she pulled him to her bosom.
Talking of Mistress Quickly, Suzannah Cassels, gave an outstanding performance of true naughtiness as she brings messages from the wives and she radiates a mischievousness as she assists in the intrigue. I first saw Suzannah in the Flash Festival of 2014 when she was a first year playing a supporting role as Ruth in Hard Knock Theatre Company’s production of Tell Me and she was pretty amazing them. So nice to see her in a proper part now.
Neizan Fernandez as a totally over the top French Doctor Caius. Please don’t ever give this man a rapier ever again. He nearly kills half our cast at one point as he waves it round. Great!
Merry wife time. Sharni Tapako-Brown as Mistress Page was a picture of elegance. Refined but with a wicked laugh at poor Falstaff’s discomfort, she was a delight to watch. Her dancing was outstanding too. I have to say her looks were perfect for the clothing and hairstyle of the period. (1940s not 1600’s). Her opposite number was Mistress Ford played by Emma Smyth. Again, Emma suited her part perfectly and her interaction with Sharni when being mean to the fat knight made for great laughs. So cruel making him hide in a tiny basket!
Our two husbands, Jake Rivers as Ford and Vandreas Richards at Page pulsate with class. Jake as Ford’s alter ego Brook is both ridiculous and hilarious in his blond wig. A real highlight.
Ann Page (Amy Weaver) and Fenton (Jordan Gray) make a lovely couple. Amy so elegant and Jordan so dashing in his RAF uniform.
Sir Hugh Evans (Kieran Hansell) is as Welsh as a big bag of Welsh things. Mocked by others he is a great part for Kieran to get his teeth into.
We have two fools in this play and one is the totally over the top Slender played by Benjamin Williams. Such a fey character who amazes us as the end with a double somersault over two people! The other is Jared Gregory as Robin. Without doubt the fewest lines in the entire play but some of the biggest laughs with his mannerisms and looks aside and to the audience.
A word or two now for our music makers and entertainers. Grace Aitken as Nim is without doubt the most demented portrayal of the lieutenant I have ever seen. Quick to draw a knife and even quicker to speed up the music as she beats on a mug while singing My Metronome. Demented but delightful. Caroline Avis as Pistol is fabulous on the keyboard and a total scene stealer during the rendition of je ne regrette rien with her pure French pronunciation! Bardolph (Madeleine Hagerty) is a great singer and was the perfect opening for the play. Our other singer is Sophie Guiver as Host who performs a great unaccompanied solo of Moondance. Not only do these young ladies sing and play but their acting was impeccable too.
Shakespeare wrote many small parts in his plays but he never, ever wrote them for minor players. Each of them is as important as that of Falstaff himself and without them the whole fails miserably. Having watched the University actors for the last three years, It has been from these small roles, that theatre giants have risen. Lucy Kitson as Simple is a great example. When on stage it was impossible to take your eyes off her. Obsequious and deferring and much put upon, she has great comic timing also. Amber Mae as Shallow and Cynthia Lebbos as Rugby, get into their parts with passion and both are well observed and played throughout. I now look forward to seeing Lucy, Amber and Cynthia grow and be given major parts in future performances and prove me right.
A mention now for Emily Jenkins. Lord above knows where you came up with the idea of this show but I am glad you did. It was obvious that the company was fully involved and that’s what makes a show for me. Total involvement in the process from beginning to end by the entire cast and crew. To have musical interludes for scene changes and that finish, well I can safely say they is the best end to any play I have ever seen. Thank you.
This was the complete package everyone. Second year is almost over. Now the pressure really starts and the third and final year is in sight. You rock!