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As Dramaturg on this performance, I had the benefit of being in the studio throughout the process from script to stage. Below are my photos of that process, and a short dramaturgical description of the work.

Victor Kalka DIRECTOR
Jasmin Borsovszky LIGHTING DESIGNER
James Cao COSTUME DESIGNER
Georgia Condon SOUND DESIGNER
Samuel Webster DRAMATURG
Caitlin Williams ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Sai Sourya Kasivajjula STAGE MANAGER
Victor Kalka SCENIC ARTIST

Produced by New Theatre, Newtown

April/May 2022

SIR JOHN FALSTAFF Cheryl Ward
PISTOL Ciara’n O’Riordan
NYM Emma Throssell
BARDOLPH/RUGBY Cheng Tang
HOSTESS OF THE GARTER INN Susan Jordan

MASTER FORD Rob Ferguson
MISTRESS FORD Roslyn Hicks
MASTER PAGE Allan Hough
MISTRESS PAGE Suzann James
ANNE PAGE Jessie Lancaster
FENTON Olivia Xegas

MISTRESS QUICKLY Priyanka Karunanithi
DOCTOR CAIUS Rob Thompson
SIR HUGH EVANS Dwayne Lawler
SHALLOW Garreth Cruikshank
SLENDER Harry Winsome
SIMPLE Thom Blake

Rehearsal

Production

Some thoughts on New Theatre’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

There are many excuses given for why The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) is one of the lesser-performed Shakespearean works. Some are less than kind. The undying myth is that Queen Elizabeth I asked for a play in which her favourite comic character, Sir John Falstaff, falls in love. While this may well be true, the flipside of that coin paints the play as a kind of half-finished afterthought while Shakespeare was between the two parts of Henry IV.

This conjecture might come from the simple fact that audiences don’t know where to place it. It’s a comedy, but one where the obligatory arranged marriage is doomed to fail. The play borrows characters from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, only to eschew the death and drama of the history plays to instead bask in the silliness of pun-filled Elizabethan fan fiction.

The plot is quite simple, despite its many parts. Sir John Falstaff’s hangers-on are bleeding his wallet dry and so he puts together a cunning plan – woo two of the wives of Windsor and gain control of their husbands’ cash flow. Catching on immediately, the wives set out to humiliate Falstaff time and time again. Unaware of his wife’s hijinks, Master Ford’s jealousy gets the better of him and he goes to Falstaff in disguise, paying him to test his wife’s fidelity. What ensues is a classic comedy of cross purposes – Ford looking to catch his wife for making him a cuckold, and his wife unknowingly giving him good reason by pretending to be unfaithful in order to humiliate Falstaff! But this is not where the quest for a decent paycheck ends. Three suitors seek the dowry of the beautiful Anne Page and everyone has their favourite horse in the race. In the end, all is solved in Windsor Forest where the local “fairies” take their opportunity to humiliate Falstaff one last time, and Anne Page steals away to marry.

The Merry Wives of Windsor takes place in contemporary Windsor and, with this refocus, we see a more irreverent Shakespeare and something which we don’t find elsewhere, an examination of middle-class life in England. The philosophical machinations of upper-class Denmark, Verona, and Venice are replaced by the meddling gossip that has its run of the town (and lines the pockets of its messengers with golden ‘angels’).

Yes, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a classic comedic romp at the expense of our ‘oily’ knight — after all, how seriously can we take a play with characters named Slender, Shallow and Simple? — but its framing gives us so much that we can relate to. Hundreds of years from British civil wars, and mental miles from the concerns of royalty, it offers us a world much like our own, that ends not in death or arranged marriage but a return to the status quo and the rhythms of domestic life.

Samuel Webster

Dramaturg

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