Tag Archives: The Merry Wives of Windsor

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

newtheatre.org.au