Thursday, 15 August 2013
A gathering of merry wives
The thing is, The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of the few Shakespearean plays that I've neither seen nor read, and this summer, we had the opportunity to see it twice. Here's a snippet of a recent production at London's Globe Theatre, done in Elizabethan costume. (Although John Falstaff is a dramatic contemporary of Henry V, MWoW is set in the England of Shakespeare's time.)
In Victoria, we saw the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival's version for this summer, which is set in the Interior of British Columbia (somewhere near Salmon Arm, I think) in 1972.
full Buck Moon rising like a peach beyond the Garry Oaks (if peaches actually could rise). There are worse ways to move into twilight.
Forward to another evening in August and I've been hauled back to Hades again and a Company of Fools is one of the few things that make that tolerable for me. We made our way to Strathcona Park with our folding chairs and umbrellas, wondering how the heck we were going to put up umbrellas with people sitting behind us. The clouds rolled in, tumbled over our heads and piled on the far side of the Rideau River, looking like a range of Mount Kilimanjaros.
And that's, thank heavens, where they stayed put, while one of the largest casts I've seen for a Company of Fools' production (six! six whole actors! -- and three puppets) told the story of how conniving Sir John Falstaff is outwitted by a pair of middle-class housewives. The scene changes were managed with snatches of song (I recognised Faure's Pavane for a Dead Princess)and a moveable door in the same shades of pastel as the costumes which were quasi-Edwardian. The door also doubled as a table-top, just as the performers doubled up on roles by quickly removing and adding layers of clothes (with the occasional hat or wig change). Of course, in the Fools' tradition, unsuspecting (and sometimes suspecting) audience members found themselves pulled from the audience: two burly fellows faced with the task of carrying off a laundry basket with the very burly Falstaff inside, and a half-dozen eager young "fairies" dashing in to circle and pinch the hapless knight at the end.
How did the two productions compare? Well, the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival, as I've said, gets its performers from a wide range of places, resulting in a wide range of experience and talent. They tend to tackle the plays very much as they appear in written form, although the times and settings are often very imaginative (Julius Caesar in eighties punk; Hamlet as a woman, etc.) The Fools, by contrast, usually present a play in about ninety minutes, stripping it down to essentials and using four to six actors. Their productions are deliberately accessible and meant to appeal to both young children as well as the more sophisticated. (I like to think I'm in the latter group, but self-delusion is my middle name.)
In short, I was amused by the Merry Wives of Na’tsa’maht, and enchanted by the Merry Wives of Strathcona Park. I'm grateful to the company of the Greater Victoria Summer Shakespeare Festival, and a Company of Fools for introducing TMWoW into my mental repertory of Shakespeare's plays.