Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review: Bard on the Beach: Merry Wives of Windsor

That's Windsor, Ontario - and its the sixties. On the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage, it opened this week. Now that the warm weather is finally here, my mind turned to the beach. And I think nothing says summer in Vancouver so much as the festival of theatre in Vanier Park. There have been changes over the years, but the appeal remains the same. And I go for the acting - not the idea that seeing actors in front of a West Coast sunset is really neat. The tent for the studio stage gets replaced next year - the main stage was done last year. Seating is on three sides with the acting in the middle, which means many of the conventions of the proscenium stage must be ignored. So yes some actors will have their backs to you when speaking - and really it does NOT matter. You know the plot either because you have seen it before, read the programme notes or listened to In a Nutshell from Christopher Gaze beforehand (well worth getting there early for that performance alone). So you may miss some dialogue without distress.

What is surprising is how well Country & Western can be fitted in to the play. It does not seem at all odd when anyone picks up a guitar and starts warbling. It's not exclusively C&W either - "These Boots" never were western, and the only niggle I have is the way it gets reprised. There must have been something else that would have fitted given the torrent of output from the Old Opry alone.

I will confess I would normally avoid C&W - but I really enjoyed the whole thing, and the performers really showed that they could play musical instruments and sing as well as act. I also suspect that this may be the first time that a didgeridoo has appeared in a Shakespeare play - but I concede I may be wrong about that. Wives is not all like any other of the cannon - for one thing its in prose and originally it was set in a place and time that Shakespeare knew at first hand. The plot is contrived - and pretty silly - but it does not matter. It just needs a stout Falstaff - someone who is a bounder but somehow loveable - and Ashley Wright does that admirably. And it needs the promise (but not of course the delivery) of sex. Amber Lewis in her sixties get up seems to be channelling Samantha Eggar (as she was in "The Collector"). I think Mistress Quickly needed to be a bit rounder - Patti Allan was more competent than compelling, and this is a role that has often allowed the slightly older actress to upstage the ingenues.

You should go. Two warnings: you can now select your seat so book early to get a good one. And right now some mosquito repellant, applied beforehand, may save some discomfort later.

1 comment:

Johnna Wright said...

Hi there, thanks for your thoughts on our production of Merry Wives. I came across them on an internet search. Just wanted to mention that, although you are quite right that "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" was first released as a pop song in 1966, Loretta Lynn recorded a great country version in 1967.