Archive | April, 2022

The Merry Wives of Windsor

28 Apr

In my many conversations with our greatest playwright we’ve yet to disagree, and I suspect it will be no different when I assert that The Merry Wives of Windsor is not one of Shakespeare’s finest works.

It may be apocryphal, but it’s said the play was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth, who desired to see Falstaff in love. Judging by the outcome, many contemporary playwrights might consider themselves fortunate to never have had a dramatic request from the current Elizabeth.

Of course, this sort of catty criticism is a joy to write, a chore to read, and does nothing for artists or audiences.

The Merry Wives is a fun story of female revenge. Outraged that Sir John Falstaff plans to seduce them – more for their assets financial than physical – Mistresses Page and Ford scheme to humiliate him.

Admittedly, it’s all rather fantastical; Falstaff’s famous physique makes sexual success utterly unlikely, and so the fat knight needs be deceived not only by others but also himself. (And I wouldn’t be the first critic to suggest this foolish Falstaff is not the knight we know from his most well-known outing, Henry IV, Part 1.)

In this production, directed by Victor Kalka, Falstaff is played by Cheryl Ward. This is clever casting, because Ward is a consummate performer, and because our awareness that Falstaff is being played by a woman enhances the fundamental premise of the play – that Falstaff is being played by women. I suspect both the play, and the production, would benefit from positioning Falstaff more centre stage.

Image by Bob Seary

The merry wives are played by Suzann James (with an intelligent poise) and Roslyn Hicks (with playful vivacity) and are supported by an energetic cast. Occasionally, there’s too much energy; perhaps one too many bawdy jokes are signposted by pelvic thrusts.  As you count them, think of England.

Shakespeare’s two young lovers, Fenton and Anne Page, are played with an admirable, gentle truthfulness by Olivia Xegas and Jessie Lancaster, and serve as a wonderful contrast to all the surrounding nonsense.

This production is worth seeing for its curiosity, energy and absurdity.

Veronica Kaye

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

New Theatre until 21 May

Lady Precious Stream

6 Apr

This is a life-affirming production.

I don’t read anything about a show before I see it. (This decision is all about retaining objectivity and absolutely nothing to do with the fact reading takes effort and, if I was into effort, I wouldn’t write about theatre.)

Having read nothing about Lady Precious Stream, I initially thought it was an example of charming orientalism. It tells of a noble family’s attempts to marry off their youngest daughter to an appropriate suitor, despite her utterly unreasonable desire to live her own life.

What is orientalism? (And can it be charming? Or is it merely sinister?) Orientalism is a positing of the Other in a way that benefits the Occident. It may function as a justification of imperialism. It may function as way of establishing identity – by way of definition by opposition. (For example; in this play, characters are mocked for their misogyny and obsession with status. And, of course, there’s absolutely nothing like that in our society.)

That’s the sinister form of orientalism; what about the charming form? This presents the exotic. It offers a vision of life that is invigorating because it’s so different from our own. (And, potentially, from anyone anywhere’s actual life. Much thrilling and life-expanding theatre is this type of orientalism.)

As it turns out, Lady Precious Stream is a Chinese play.

What exactly is a Chinese play? What does the adjective in that term signify? (Skip this bit of pedantry if you want; after all, language is merely a net we drag through the ocean of reality; it doesn’t catch everything, and everything it catches it kills.) Is a Chinese play a play written in Chinese? Or a play written by someone born in China? Or a play written by someone not living in China but descended from people who did? Or a play that just happens to be about China, written by anyone?

Lady Precious Stream is based on a traditional Chinese story and was written in English by Chinese playwright S. I. Hsiung. It was first performed in the 1930’s in England, with an English cast. Is it accurate to call this play a piece of orientalism? After all, it was written by a Chinese playwright. But for who? An English audience. (See my earlier comment about pedantry.)

This production is by Asian-Australian company Slanted Theatre, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

It works beautifully on two levels: working within the parameters of the charming form of orientalism, and operating as a gentle parody of the reductionism that all orientalism tempts us into if we read it as realism.

What’s so marvellous about this production by director Tiffany Wong and her brilliant cast is its exuberant lightness.

The whole team offer wonderful comic performances. Wise beyond her years and cheekily independent, Susan Ling Young shines as Lady Precious Stream; it’s an inspired piece of casting. Steve Lu and Mym Kwa each play a couple, each doubling as both husband and wife, and the effect is dizzyingly mischievous.

The Flying Nun by Brand X provides an invaluable space for artists to experiment, and Wong uses the opportunity magnificently. Her playful mixing of modern tech and more traditional elements of movement and sound create an art work that is gloriously conscious of its status as an artefact. Who needs reality; this is magic.

Veronica Kaye

Lady Precious Stream by S. I. Hsiung

The Flying Nun by Brand X  1 April – 2 April

Image by Liangyu Sun @ theatreworks