Theresa and I took some time out this weekend to go down to Stratford to the RSC to see their production of Merry Wives of Windsor. I had read Harold Bloom's dismissal in "The Invention of the Human" and was a little bit wary of the play before I went. But Judi Dench and Simon Callow would surely make it entertaining! Then I heard it was a musical version a few weeks ago and even heard Judi Dench singing on BBC4 - not something I needed at 7am in the morning! I was dreading it.
We arrived in Stratford, found the hotel, had a fantastic meal at our favourite restaurant there, The Oppo in Sheep Street/Lane/Road whatever it is called, and then headed down to the theatre. The programme looked interesting as did the CD's with the soundtrack - CDs for a Shakespeare? What was going to happen?
Well the show was fantastic. A mix between Shakespeare, musical and pantomime. I have to say that it was thoroughly enjoyable. I can see what Bloom means by Falstaff being a pale shadow of the proper Shakespearean Falstaff, and the rest of the characters were a little bland. But the production, the music, the humour, the choreography and scenery and the actors really made it a very enjoyable night.
I loved the contemporary edge - with issues relating to ethnic minorities and arranged marriages right to the fore, as well as the whole issue of what life was like in Windsor among the nouveau riche and the not to rich!
I am trying to work out some kind of text/source criticism thing on what was Shakespeare and what was the new lyric writer and adapter...I'd like to see what they thought they needed to add...I was also amazed at some of the theological issues of forgiveness and repentance that came across and the way in which these are folded into a Christmas play...and then the old line at the end about people putting up with their lot...
One thing I would love more time for is to explore the theology and biblical background and intertextuality with these theatre/TV/artistic things I get to see - there is so much there to explore...one day perhaps...
One thing, Alistair McGowan, impressionist, played Mr Ford/Mr Brooke. He was very good. But in the talkback after the performance he said that Shakespeare's humour needed updating..."after all, I write some gags and they don't last four years, never mind four hundred". Now I thought Alistair played Mr Ford very well, and for his debut at the RSC, he was very good. But I am not so sure that he was right here - part of the wonder of Shakespeare is the timeless quality of his work (do you really need to update Romeo and Juliet - ah yes, West Side Story, High School Musical...Teen Shakespeare?) and his humour certainly stands the test of time. I am not sure Alistair's will...but then, surely he isn't saying he is as good as Shakespeare yet?
The piece de resistance was Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly. A strange part, but one that allowed her to to do her Queen Bess bit at the end, some marvellous comic moments, and even to break the heart with a wonderful soliloquy on the 'honeysuckle villain' Falstaff. Wonderful performance that was one of those moments which you will remember the rest of your life.