Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Falstaff is short of cash and female company but woe betide he that sends the 1950’s equivalent of a blanket tweet to all his female “followers”.
It’s 1956, women are chained to the kitchen sink and men sashay in from the city (or the golf course) expecting the dinner to be on the table and a smile to be on the face of their “little woman”. But Sir John Falstaff’s get up and go long since got up and went and, bereft of cash and bumptious female company, he badly underestimates the housewives of the Page and Ford family, who are desperate only for frolics at their plump admirer’s expense.
That about sums up what is normally a near three hour Shakespeare comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor. That YAT Theatre managed to squeeze all the essentials into an action-packed sixty minutes of fast moving fun and frolics is down to some very skilful scripting, staging and an excellent performance from a twenty strong troupe of young actors, ranging in age from a youthful 16 to a positively ancient 25, aided and abetted by an excellent backstage crew.
All credit, then, that their relative youth did not prevent their playing the rich variety of ages demanded by this play with a great deal of conviction. Dr Cauis (Josh Clarke), Sir Huw Evans (Gwithian Evans) and Slender (the charmingly gauche Alex Farley) extracted every comedic nuance from their roles, whilst Messrs Ford and Page (Arran Southern and Gabriel Burns respectively) had the gravitas required of (apparently) wronged husbands. Pistol, Bardolph and their merry gang came and went with commendable efficiency, combining scene shifting duties with small, but important interventions to keep things rolling along. And the mischievous wives were played with great aplomb and conspiratorial glee by Joanna Leppink and Rebecca Tarry. Perhaps Sir John himself (Liam Hurley) might have been portrayed with a little less vitality given his supposed corpulence and age, but that’s a minor quibble.
Costumes were absolutely superb, of the era and exquisitely tailored and coloured. Someone had also spent a good deal of time and care in locating props from the era too and the sound segue ways were representative of music popular in the mid-50’s. Tightly directed by Sarah Dowd and Elizabeth Lattimore, the whole production had a great deal of energy, the cueing tight and the story never getting lost in all the hectic and very frequent comings and goings. The classic three scenes where Falstaff is roundly debunked – the basket, the Mistress of Brentford and the woods – were all delivered with a real panache. All in all, a production with a lot to commend it.