So of course I couldn’t come to England without making a pilgrimage to the Bard’s hometown. Of course the lure of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Holy Trinity Church and a clever little exhibition of props from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s collection were too much to resist, but with the throng of tourists getting in the way of the atmosphere, the most pleasant part of our afternoon was definitely plonking ourselves down in The Dell with a pint of cider for a lively performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The company, Greater Fool, was formed specifcally to perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Dell in Stratford Upon Avon, and they certainly deliver. Lewis Allcock worked up a sweat playing four different characters, and David Rankine’s brilliantly angsty Mister Ford had the eager audience in stitches.
Possibly the only decision that left me wondering whether it was a good one was the decision to utilise the fame of Modern Family to improve accessibility. Taya De La Cruz‘s Mistress Page was highly amusing as a Mexican housewife, but the reference was heavy-handed and I just wondered if there was a more nuanced way to achieve the same effect. My twelve-year-old daughter has never seen much Modern Family, so the references went over her head, but she still engaged with the story well, despite having had no exposure to this play before either.
Whether this was too much or not was neither here nor there in the end, as the performance was light, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining. Falstaff (Adam Diggle) was suitably depicted as a football-obsessed larrikin, and his engagement with the audience flowed into the atmosphere of the outdoor space, punctuated, as it was, during the performance we attended, by loud speaker announcements from across the river and actual real-life larrikins who had already removed their jerseys to soak up the sunshine and talk on their phones behind the stage. The cast, however, were impressive in their determination to hold our attention, and their toil paid off. These are perhaps the most undervalued performers in England (it was free, though they do pass a basket around afterwards).
I did consider swapping our days so we could be at Stonehenge for the solstice, but I actually think this was the best activity for summer’s longest day ever devised. And to enjoy a play is a much more suitable activity for a visit to Stratford than battling to catch a glimpse of the bed in Shakespeare’s parents’ room over the shoulders of other pilgrims.
- Photos from this production are available from Stratford Upon Avon Theatre Review