Tuesday, July 23

The Merry Wives of Windsor – The Roman Theatre of St Albans

Approaching Shakespeare with much as much joy and as little reverence as the children’s book “When Pigasso met Mootisse” treats the artists whose work it adapts, this production is technically recognizable as one of the most often neglected of the great playwright’s works but is in many ways a chimera of Elizabethan bawd, modern sensibility, and eighties sound.

Not only soundtracked by the hits of that decade, this script is also peppered with cultural references time-specific enough that its heightened accessibility is restricted almost exclusively to audiences Gen X and up. This is not entirely a bad thing. Even the least meddled with performing script of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor has both a humour and a logic inherent to it that demands an adult understanding of money and sex. What it demands in absurdity of staging is a degree of camp theatricality often restricted to children’s theatre and pantomime.

Photo: Elliot Franks Photography

This production works hard to draw out the inner child of each audience member and contains roughly as many E.T. references as it does truly vulgar jokes. Director and adaptor Adam Nichols is successful in striking a consistent tone in both scripting and production that is easy to engage with once the audience has been forced to wriggle out of their shells and get on board with the play’s goofy antics. The incredibly hard working “Stella Quickly” (Savannah Beckford) does quite a lot of heavy lifting in winning the audience over, bending over backwards (and not infrequently backing it up) to secure the rapport that makes this show sing. With solid musical direction and arrangement by Adam Morris the hits come hard and fast and are unfailingly performed with a joyous exuberance and beautifully flagrant choreography by Ryan Munroe.

A truly hilarious rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” showcases the otherwise broadly underutilized talents of the magnetic Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson as Abraham “Slender” Ford. Every member of the cast gets at least one song to ham up over the show’s two-hour runtime and even the smallest roles tend to shine through in these moments. The focus is, as it should be, on the wives, Alice Ford (Emma Wright) and Meg Page (Anna Macleod Franklin), but David Widdowson is winsome in his third outing for OVO as Mr. Ford and Marcus Churchill is relentlessly charming in his brief stage appearances as “Steak on Me” catering van owner and unwaveringly secure husband George Page. Sets by Simon Nicholas and costumes by Emma Lyth have their own share of fun, each with their little metatheatrical touches for the audience to delight in.

The archaeological site that makes up the larger environment for the play’s staging is absolutely worth checking out, and while you’re there why not join this motley crew for a song and dance or two?

For further details visit The Merry Wives of Windsor – OVO – Theatre

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 4th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.