Each time a certain character appears on stage, their entrance is heralded by their own personalised piece of music, suggestive of their character attributes, as with the romantic melody of Fenton, suitor to Anne, or the lower tones as our merry wives are plotting revenge against Falstaff.
Royal Shakespeare Company: The Merry Wives of Windsor
At the beginning of the play particularly, we are introduced to this colourful host of characters, many of whom appear to their individual tune, whilst their names are projected onto a screen. Throughout the production, therefore, the music is able to play to audience anticipation, becoming an audible clue as to which character will be arriving on stage. The characters are all so different, and the music serves to enhance their individuality.
The ensemble has been cast perfectly, each embodying perfectly the virtues, and vices, their characters are known, and loved, for. David Troughton is outstanding as Falstaff, truly magnificent; he portrays this character perfectly.
Although a knight, and therefore technically of the highest social standing perhaps of all our characters, Falstaff is actually the most dishonourable, lacking all those qualities which one would think a knight, the embodiment of chivalry, should possess. An immoral character, a seriously flawed protagonist, Falstaff is largely given to pursuing base pleasures, and his reputation certainly precedes him.
Troughton portrays all the vices of this character, his cowardice, even his strained physical exertion, the actor wearing a rather heft fat suit, and yet, he expertly maintains something of a charm, which at least appeals to the audiences, if not to the wives he seeks to seduce. After both receiving identical love letters from Falstaff, the only difference being their names, at which Mistress Page suggests that he probably has a hundred such letters to hand, bearing blank spaces, where he would write the names of the ladies he desired at any given moment, the two women join forces in concocting a plot of revenge against him.
Together, they truly are a force to be reckoned with — and are able to outwit Falstaff, ultimately triumphing over him.
Unbeknownst to Falstaff, the women are the true orchestrators of the action, and together set in motion the chain of events that see the knight justly punished. Just as he had planned to use these women for his own ends, the women instead take it upon themselves to ensure this character receives his just desserts.
The Bard goes to Brentwood in RSC's TOWIE-style Merry Wives of Windsor - Leamington Courier
However, far from harbouring a dark and malicious intent, these women playfully hope to curb his immoral behaviour by teaching him a lesson, having enormous fun whilst doing it. Unlike Falstaff, these are honourable protagonists. However, Anne is in love with young gentleman Fenton, dashingly portrayed here by Luke Newberry , and he with her.
In fact, she loves him so much, she marries him at the end of the play, without her parents consent, without even their knowledge. In addition, she deceives her parents into thinking that she is marrying each of their choices of suitor, instead sending another in her place, whilst she marries Fenton — a touching, and modern, celebration of headstrong and unyielding love, true love.
When it comes to love, Anne is forward-thinking, as was Shakespeare. Ishia Bennison is delightful as Mistress Quickly who, although of a lower social class than the wives, clear from her apron and the rubber gloves hanging around her waist, she is willing to act as go-between, conveying their messages to Falstaff.
Therefore, she becomes a source of reassurance for all characters — all confide in her, rely on her, all look to her for help. It is astonishingly sophisticated in its lack of sophistication.
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The plot is hardly the most elaborate woven by Shakespeare. The priapic, grotesque drunkard Sir John Falstaff has designs upon two women, whose intelligence and guile he routinely underestimates; he is outwitted and eventually humiliated. Other loves and jealousies abound, but they are essentially props for broad, ribald and sometimes unhinged humour, handled here with great skill. Yes, it sometimes feels like a pantomime. Yes, there are jokes at the expense of a Frenchman that would have been rejected for their unsubtlety by the writers of 'Allo 'Allo. But there is craft to all this: the comedy is impeccable in its timing and movement, the cast having been coached by Toby Park, an expert in clowning.
For instance Hamlet , directed by Janet Suzman, was on for only eleven performances while there will be only four outings for a Polish Macbeth next month. It's open to debate whether that's because the RSC has recently performed those very well-known plays or if it was due to scheduling complications.
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I described that production as a prime example of what the RSC does best: taking a fresh look at a familiar play and presenting it with vitality and polish. The play has been the inspiration for a number of musical adaptations over the years. Usually they've taken an operatic form and had a change of title because they've centred more on the misfortunes of Sir John Falstaff than Shakespeare's women.