The Merry Wives of Windsor Review - Theatre N16

In the gorgeous Shakespearean Globe Space at Theatre N16 for two performances only, comes one of Shakespeare's lesser-spotted plays: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Merely Theatre are making quite a name for themselves with two productions on open-air tours currently. With crowd pleasers like Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet (which can be seen at N16 on 25th and 26th September) it was very refreshing to see their marvellous version of Merry Wives with a cast of 18!

I am not about to pretend that I didn't look up the synopsis before seeing this show, so for anyone who hasn't seen this play before, here is a little idea of the plot:
The play centres around Sir John Falstaff (Ben Eagle); a masterpiece of a character who is previously seen in Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts 1 and 2. At the start of the play, he is observed plotting with his comrades to seduce Mistress Page (Lia Burge) and Mistress Ford (Jen Wiper), both of whom have desirable fortunes inherited from their wealthy husbands.
Mr Ford (Alice Osmanski) is an overly jealous man who does not trust his wife, whereas Page (Matt Mella) seems to be the complete opposite.
The women are appalled to receive Falstaff’s doting letters and decide to seek revenge, not only to humiliate Falstaff but also to gain the trust from Ford and make him finally see that his wife is faithful.
The sub-plot involves Mistress and Mr Page trying to marry off their young daughter, Anne (Claire Heverin), to the highest bidder. Two suitors, the bumbling and awkward Slender (Ailis Duff) and the pompous, French Dr Caius (James Alexander McInnes) are trying to win her affection. You will have to come and see the play to see how that turns out!

Let me start by saying that I have not seen this much energy and verve thrust into a production in quite some time. An explosive start with lovely physical comedy as well as clarity in the characters made for an excellent watch.

The production was wonderfully directed by both Scott Ellis (artistic director of both Merely Theatre and Theatre N16) and Simon Grujich (associate artist with Merely Theatre) with an unapologetic simpleness which worked so brilliantly. With striking performances, fast-paced speech and (this word again) ENERGY, it allowed the simple "black box" set and casual costumes to aid the production rather than hinder it.

Some may say they missed the atmospheric live music that you often get with a Shakespeare production, but I don’t think it was needed for this particular show. The casual, ensemble vibe meant that certain ‘generic’ theatrical devices weren’t missed. It also really allowed for a brilliant rapport with the audience, to the point where audience members were willing to go on stage and participate at certain points.

I particularly enjoyed the gender-blind casting. To see women such as Alice Osmanski play a jealous and, at times, quite frightening Mr Ford was joyful to watch. Similarly an excellent, physically comedic performance from Ailis Duff as Slender made for a truly hilarious take on the male character.

The short and the long is, get down to N16 if you can TONIGHT (21st July) to catch the last performance!

(c) 2017 Molly Miller

Director - Scott Ellis and Simon Grujich
Assistant Director - Courtney Larkin

Ailis Duff - Slender
Alice Osmanski - Mr Ford
Anne O’Riordan - Simple
Ben Eagle - Falstaff
Christian James - Bardolph
Claire Heverin - Anne Page
James Alexander McInnes - Dr Caius
James Tobin - Sir Hugh Evans
Jen Wiper - Mistress Ford
Jessica Strawson - Shallow
Lia Burge - Mistress Page
Lindsey Huebner - Pistol
Matt Mella - Mr Page
Olivia Bromley - Mistress Quickly
Rosanna Lamb - Host
Simon Grujich - Rugby
Will Mytum - Fenton
Zena Carswell - Nym

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