By Paul Kiely
The Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Victor Kalka
A New Theatre Production
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 19 April – 21 May 2022. Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval. Bookings: https://newtheatre.org.au
If Shakespeare had the vision of Nostradamus, he may well have foreseen The Merry Wives of Windsor being set in a 1980’s Australian backyard. Nonetheless, Director Viktor Kalka has made the geographic transition, and it is an interesting concept to say the least.
Inspired by ‘the bard’s’ intention to make the play contemporaneous, Kalka creates one set, complete with bungalow, clothesline, garden setting and paling fence. Characters are true to name and dialogue, but costumes and behaviour are localised. To entrench a contemporary feel, 1980’s popular music assists in scene changes.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a light-hearted look at those ageless themes of love, jealousy and envy. There are social climbers, hangers-on and schemers, each plotting to find a way to get-rich-quick without wasting time on such things as ‘hard work’. And there are also those with a sincere heart seeking a life partner based on real love.
The story centres around Sir John Falstaff (Cheryl Ward), a jolly, rotund gentleman whose fortune has taken a battering. To improve his standing, he concocts an idea to seduce the wives of two leading businessmen, Messrs Page (Allan Hough) and Ford (Rob Ferguson).
Whilst this may be a great idea in theory, the scheme falters when he sends love letters to Mistress Page (Suzann James) and Mistress Ford (Roslyn Hicks), declaring his admiration and desire. Naturally, the two ladies share their letters and are aghast to find that the wording in each letter is one and the same. Madame’s Page and Ford then conspire to ridicule Sir John, initially by playing along with his advances in order to entrap him for a grand public humiliation.
Whilst the ladies go about their plan, a sub-story plays along concurrently. The Pages’ daughter Anne (Jessie Lancaster) has three suitors after her hand. The one she loves is Fenton (Olivia Xegas), but he does not have her parents’ approval. Her father encourages Slender (Harry Winsome) and her mother prefers the French doctor Caius (Rob Thompson).
There are other players each supporting their preferred love-match, including a Welsh clergyman, Sir Hugh Evans (Dwayne Lawler).
One can see where this story is going, so the journey to the conclusion is full of crazy scenes, exaggerated dialogue and humorous exchanges. The French and Welsh characters have overly broad accents and gestures. Dr Caius has an obvious 1980’s camp persona which, whilst amusing, seems out of place for the plot this character finds himself in. On the other hand, clergyman Evans, in a moment of prayerful self-searching, begins to recite Tom Jones’ hit ‘It’s not Unusual.’ An effective, modern addition to Shakespeare’s script.
The heavy French and Welsh accents were sometimes hard to decipher and the duration of 2 hours 45 minutes asked much of the audience.
Overall, the play is entertaining, well-directed and the actors put in their all. ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is now on at the New Theatre.