Simon Callow & Judi Dench in Merry Wives
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
13 December 2006 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews It would take a churl, a very ‘dried pear’, to cavil at Gregory Doran’s musical adaptation of , which offers reasons enough ‘to be cheerful’. The play, reputedly written to order for Elizabeth I, ranks with Shakespeare’s slightest, while Falstaff, fat though he be, is but a shadow of the colossal creation, the force of nature, who bestrides The Merry Wives of Windsor Henry IV Parts I and II.
Simon Callow, making his RSC acting debut, following the withdrawal due to injury of Desmond Barrit, initially underwhelms. That voice is present and correct of course, and the art informing his performance is never in doubt, but he doesn’t seem to loom over the proceedings as he ought.
And then you remember that the Falstaff of the history plays is not present here. That Falstaff would never be so gulled and Callow’s performance, shaped at short notice, seems even more admirable. This is soft-focus England, something hinted at in
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set, an idyll of a pristine street of timbered buildings, smoke curling above, giving way to undulating meadows.
The production is cast to the hilt: aside from
Simon Callow, there’s (Dame) Judi Dench; Alistair McGowan; Haydn Gwynne and Alexandra Gilbreath. Also making their presence felt are Simon Trinder, a star of the recent RSC Spanish Golden Age season, Paul Chahidi, unobtrusively excellent of late and terrific here as mad Dr Caius, and Ian Hughes as Sir Hugh Evans, a Welsh Parson.
In the programme notes, Doran promises ‘a romp’, something the production, for the most part, delivers in spades. It’s beautifully staged and excellently played - yet it doesn’t always sweep one up as one feels it should. That this is so seems partly down to the music by
Paul Englishby. The numbers wittily pastiche West End hits like Cats and Stomp, as well as opera and country & western. For every palpable winner, however, there are two less sparkling melodies.
But this being a Doran production, the experience is never less than rewarding and it will undoubtedly be a hit. Look out for
Brenda O'Hea’s wicked Russell Brand impersonation.
- Pete Wood
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
Relatively Speaking Goodness knows why Alan Ayckbourn's debut success has had to wait 46 years for its first West End ... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... ATG acquires Broadway's largest theatre The Foxwoods, home of Spider-Man In another significant step for transatlantic theatre relations, the UK’s biggest theatre ... 1st Night Photos: Strictly stars party at Relatively Speaking first night Strictly stars Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen and Artem Chigvintsev were among those celebrating ... Matilda on Broadway wins five Drama Desk Awards The Broadway transfer of Matilda The Musical has won five gongs at the 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards... Pulitzer winner : Islam is 'ripe territory' for drama Ayad Akhtar Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, receives its UK premiere ... Michael Coveney: New York honours Matilda with five big awards First blood in the New York awards contest went to Matilda last night, as the show walked off with... Opening: Relatively Speaking, Southwark Playhouse's Tanzi Libre & NT Shed's Bullet Catch Among this week's major London theatre openings, in the West End and further afield, are Relatively ... Young Vic's award-winning Doll's House transfers to West End Carrie Cracknell's critically acclaimed Young Vic production of A Doll's House, using an adaptatio... : Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention Ten of the Best Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it mak...