Peter Jeary discusses Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
I’ve never understood why The Merry Wives of Windsor is so rarely performed. It’s not one of Shakespeare’s classics, but for anyone wanting just a jolly good romp, it’s crammed full of fun. Perhaps one of the reasons it doesn’t get out much is because it’s also crammed full of rather ‘awkward’ content for modern audiences: casual racism; misogyny; sexism; demeaning stereotypes and schoolchild humour.
Perfect material, we thought, for a “Carry On … ” production set in the Swinging Sixties. That’s the 1960s, not the 1660s.
With two feisty Merry Wives, a jealous husband, a French physician with a poor grasp of English and a Welsh parson with a renowned liking for cheese, the play has almost everything you need for Carry On Up The Thames. But Shakespeare’s theatrical coup is to bring back two of the most vivacious characters from his histories, Falstaff and Mistress Quickly. They transform the play from a slapstick comedy into a bawdy, bruising farce.
Our production at Chelmsford Theatre Workshop pays homage to the Whitehall farces of the 50s and 60s. Trousers are lost, imposters are hidden in wardrobes and cuckolded husbands chase about the stage in search of their foe. We also gave the play a modern twist by adding a dozen songs from the 1960s to comment on character and plot. And to be honest – some of the songs are included just because we like them!
Early on in the production planning, we worked with licensing authorities to clear the songs for pubic performance. They include classics from Aretha Franklin, Cliff Richard and Dusty Springfield. We’d like to think that if Shakespeare was alive today he’d have done the same. And who would have thought that the lyrics he wrote as Falstaff is tormented by ‘evil sprites’ work perfectly with a Johnny Cash classic? Well, the Bard has always been timeless.
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop presents The Merry Wives of Windsor by Will Shakespeare.
December 5-9 and 12-16 2017 at the Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford CM2 6JT
Nightly at 7.45pm
Box Office (01245) 606505 or at the door.
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop on amdram.co.uk – https://amdram.co.uk/groups/chelmsford-theatre-workshop/
Image: Sarah Bell as Mistress Quickly