Theatre Review: Northern Broadsides’ The Merry Wives – ‘magnificent’
March 29, 2016
The Windsor of the Shakespearean original is dropped by Northern Broadsides and the proceedings are transferred to a 1920s northern country club where the nouveau riche play their trivial games. There are two main plot-lines: the first is to find a husband for Ann Page. In this matter her mother prefers the quite ridiculous Doctor Quius, mainly for his contacts at the court. George Page however prefers Slender, a country gentleman but a total fool when it comes to romance. While she herself is in love with Fenton, a man of means but truly in love.
Then the second theme is Sir John Falstaff’s idiotic scheme to woo himself a wealthy woman to cure his current state of destitution, despite his title. So stupidly and with great avarice he begins projects to gain the affections of not one but two well-to-do ladies, Margaret Page and Alice Ford. The latter has a jealous husband to boot which adds to the complexity of the narrative.
Basically the show is a magnificent showcase for Barrie Rutter OBE as Falstaff whose comedic timing and farcical demeanour have the audience in uproarious laughter. Added of course is an ensemble who not only shine in the farcical hilarity but bring music and dance too. There are some superb set pieces and the northern dialogue as ever gives the production a true authenticity and vitality. Lis Evans’ design combines simplicity and function with elegance and attention to detail.
Rutter’s direction is masterful with an equal force given to the slapstick as you would give to a tragic moment. And, as Rutter points out in our interview, sometimes comedy can have a great emotional depth beneath its surface. So we feel for Falstaff despite his folly and buffoonery, so ably acted by Rutter.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Viaduct Theatre, Halifax. Touring see http://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk/