Packed with irony, sarcasm, and featuring a talented cast and crew, this open-air production of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is a first for Carisbrooke Castle.
English Heritage has teamed up with the Island’s local theatrical talent to produce a loyal adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy play, set in the atmospheric grounds of Carisbrooke Castle. After yesterday, I have no doubt in my mind that this venue will used again for future productions – Shakespearean or otherwise.
How will Mistress Ford (Fiona Gwinnet) and Mistress Page (Maria Wilkinson) exact revenge on Sir John Falstaff (Paul Stevens)? How will Master Ford (Josh Pointing) and Master Page (John Abraham) react to these indecent assumptions towards their “merry wives”? And finally, who will marry the beautiful Anne Page (Katie Gibson)? These questions go through your head as the play unfolds.
A majority of the humour is derived from Shakespeare’s effective use of dramatic irony, sarcasm and risqué double entendre – which are used to explore the overarching themes of love and marriage, jealousy and revenge, social class and wealth. The play itself is a social commentary; centred on the class prejudices of Shakespeare’s time.
Although a period play, the talented cast managed to convey these prejudices well to the audience through their acting abilities and clear deliverance, especially in scenes like this one:
Alas the day! good heart, that was not her fault:
she does so take on with her men; they mistook their erection.
So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman’s promise.
Literal translation: Falstaff regrets being sexually aroused by Mistress Page’s promise to have an affair with him – unaware that she and Mistress Ford are playing him for a fool! The audience roared with laughter at that part!
I would like to take this opportunity to praise the entire cast, particularly Patrick Barry for his portrayal of the stereotypically-French physician Doctor Caius, one of Anne Page’s three suitors. Mistress Page wants Anne to marry Caius, whereas Master Page wants her to marry Slender (Nye Russell-Thompson), the socially-awkward cousin of Falstaff’s rival, Justice Shallow (Michael Arnell). Anne’s true love, however, is the charming Fenton (Joe Groves) – whom her parents dislike.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the bankrupt Sir Falstaff decides to woo the “merry wives” for his own financial gain. He writes two identical love letters (bad mistake #1), and orders his servants – Pistol (Hannah Brewer) and Nym (Casey Chesney Delaboud) – to deliver them, but when they refuse, he sacks them (bad mistake #2). In revenge, the servants tell Ford and Page of Falstaff’s ill intentions.
These transgressions all culminate together in a grand finale in which Falstaff is publicly humiliated (although he takes the joke well), Slender and Doctor Caius are deceived into marrying two young BOYS, and Fenton elopes with Anne Page – with her parents’ blessing.
Overall, this was a wonderful production, with major props to Maureen Sullivan (director), Edward Nash (wardrobe), Emily Scotcher and Lorna Brownsword (musical directors). The atmospheric grounds of Carisbrooke Castle – which are steeped in local history – not only enhanced the play, but made it feel more authentic, and I would welcome the opportunity to review the next open-air production – should it happen again. (Fingers crossed!)
Performance reviewed: Saturday 8th July
Reviewed by Jack Brading