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The Merry Wives of Windsor

2014 06 21_0864aSo 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).

2014 06 21_0861aI 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.

 

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 21 June 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Taming of the Shrew

When you go to the preview night for a Bell Shakespeare production, it could be for one of two reasons: either you’re too stingy to pay full price, or you’re so damn keen you couldn’t wait… I fall into both categories.

If you’ve read any of the publicity about this production of The Taming of the Shrew, you will probably be aware that it sports an all-female cast. Of course the history of the play’s interpretation, especially in the last century, is all about its gender politics. And rightly so, since it is a theme that cannot be divorced from Shakespeare’s text. But having seen it, I wonder whether the decision to use an all-female cast really entered into the play’s production process. I think it felt more like an academic exercise. A valid and interesting academic exercise, perhaps, but not as exciting as Shakespeare can be when he is lifted above the realm of the rational.
Petruchio is the character that stands to lose the most in being played by a woman, but Jeanette Cronin delivers a slightly insane Petruchio with a singularly spectacular performance. Luisa Hastings Edge likewise delivers a fully engaging and well-rounded Lucentio. Unfortunately, in the case of the remaining male characters, their female performers fail to deliver an entirely engaging performance.
Of course, this may be intentional. Perhaps Director Marion Potts meant for the disjuncture between the performer and character to accentuate our modern discomfort with the shrew’s taming? Perhaps. But if this was the case, it’s unfortunate that it leaves the audience simply uncomfortable and not sure why. Even if the other male characters had been better played by their performers, I still feel that the all-female cast idea would amount to little more than an academic exercise or marketing ploy, offering no enhancement to the production.
I don’t mean to be too heavily critical of Bell’s production, nor of the other performers playing male roles. Despite the unnecessary distraction of the female performers, the production as a whole is excellent, eliciting plenty of laughter and pathos even from a tired old cynic like me.
I especially liked the setting, which immediately put me in mind of Rooty Hill RSL, until I realised that there is no way there’d be five mirror balls at Rooty Hill, and this must therefore certainly be modelled after Parramatta RSL. The use of Karaoke is a nice touch, and I still have Culture Club lyrics swimming around in my head.
So apart from bearing perhaps a little too much concern for its gender politics, I think Marion Potts should be congratulated on a great production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.
 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 6 October 2009 in Bell Shakespeare Company, William Shakespeare

 

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