LAST night, touring theatre company ‘Northern Broadsides’ performed the Shakespearian comedy to mark the playwrights 400th anniversary with merriment. Quays News entertainment reporter Rae Coppola was there for us…

Northern Broadsides made the play their own by adapting the original script slightly, and changing the setting to the unmistakably northern county of 1920s Yorkshire. The flat caps, hard vowels and references to Skipton and Ilkley meant it was set nowhere near Windsor, the original setting, which was coincidentally left out of the title.

The middle-class comedy sees Barrie Rutter, as impoverished knight Falstaff, try his luck in even numbers rather than “odd”, on two local wives with prosperous fortunes. Becky Hindley and Nicola Sanderson form the formidable duo of Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, whom he attempted to seduce, oblivious to the notion that they were close friends who soon realised they were both the subject of his so-called affections.

Laughing contagiously, with the occasional unladylike snort, the pair cunningly plot revenge for their own amusement, incorporating the actions of over-jealous husband Ford to humiliate the feckless Falstaff to the highest degree.

Amongst the merry wives shenanigans, strong-willed Ann Page, played by Sarah Eve, had three suitors proposing marriage, but only one true love whom was not her parent’s preferred choice.

The staging was minimalistic, with delivery and clever use of entrance and exit points taking priority. The farcical, over-exaggerated acting drew reference to the ‘Carry On’ films rather than a Shakespearian play, but guaranteed laughter. To do so, the talented cast implored the use of modern props, creating an ironic twist on what was expected to be traditional.

Mistress Ford’s sultry poses with roses, a treadmill, sporting equipment as weapons, and even a pallet truck were some of the few surprises to come out of the play, but they were pleasant ones all the same, only adding to the comedic value.

The lead characters were superb, with the merry wives laughing uncontrollably in such a way that came across to be natural and utterly believable, especially following Mistress Ford’s witty one liners, and the over-emotional monologues by Frank Ford (Andrew Vincent) completely fitting for a man overcome with jealously. Credit also should be taken by Andy Cryer as Doctor Caius, one of Ann Page’s suitors, for his extremely unconvincing French accent that ensured the audience could not take him seriously.

However, Rutter, also the artistic director of the play, played Falstaff for the third time and undoubtedly took centre stage (not just because of his character’s sheer size). Taking the role extremely seriously, it became difficult to distinguish the anti-hero character from his own persona. This is exactly what acting should be as it meant the audience would never be able to view another Falstaff without drawing comparisons and wishing it was Rutter.

The highlight of the evening was Falstaff’s closet change, into a closet. His character reappeared dressed in the fabric hut disguised as the ‘Fat Witch of Ilkley’. This was clever directing as the audience did not see it coming, and it again proved him as the star of the show.

Another unique show moment was the cast throwing clothes, dirty underwear included, from the laundry basket at the audience’s heads. The front row were submerged in linen, and the forth wall was broken with great success. They were great sports however, making sure to pick up the material and place it back on the stage for the actors to collect back up with ease.

In usual Shakespearean taste, a scene with fairies was inevitable, but even this was magically turned into comedy gold since their attire was none other than silk pyjamas, and their dancing ironically ungraceful. The play ended on a high note thanks to the latter, followed by a sing song from the cast, and a performance from the multi-talented character of Fenton (Adam Barlow), Ann Page’s true love, with a live band.

This play is a must see for any Shakespeare fan, or an easy watch for those unfamiliar with his works who too want to enjoy the merriment.

By Rae Coppola

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