The Merry Wives @ the West Yorkshire Playhouse

image-1-1What more could you ask for with fairies, farce, mischievous maids and trickery? Quite a lot, actually.

Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides Barrie Rutter brings his new production of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives (not from Windsor but Yorkshire of course, in keeping with their Northern roots) to West Yorkshire Playhouse. The corpulent Falstaff, played by Rutter, tries in vain to woo two maidens with one jealous husband on the war path to seek his revenge on the bumbling oaf resulting in quick escapes, witty dialogue but, above all else, farcical, floppy failure.

There is a reason The Merry Wives is one of Shakespeare’s least known plays. There are few gags and for the rest of the play it just didn’t have the energy of a farce though the company tried hard to create it. That is not saying Northern Broadsides did not do well with the source material, but the main plot just did not have a theatrical zeal that could withhold the nearly three hour running time.

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The clear pantomime style was well founded as it called for over the top performances but these certainly did grate as the play developed. A floundering Frenchman character, portrayed as some feeble attempt to re-create Officer Crabtree in ‘Allo Allo’ was a displeasure to hear every time he entered. Certain characterisation worked but others were just irksome and irritating.

Acting aside, the true winner of the night was the technical aspects and costumes. Set in what appeared to be Edwardian England, very ‘Brideshead Revisited’, the costumes oozed elegance and sophistication whereas the serfs of the piece in their mud caked costumes and earthy textures created a stark contrast to their superiors. The staging was simple with abstract wooden trees and vibrant floor but this was a wise move as the action was solely on the actors not the set. A psychedelic, absurdist use in the climax of the play set in the woods with music, pyrotechnics and far out costumes created a true denouement for the play which made the action go out with a bang.

The company did well with the plot and the circumstances with which to work, combining silly fun and antics, but the whole piece just fell flat and this is why The Merry Wives should stay as one of Shakespeare’s unknown plays.

‘The Merry Wives’ runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 7th April to 16th April.

Filed under: Theatre & Dance