The Merry Wives of Windsor – The Globe Theatre

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Elle While

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The bard’s only comedy set in England The Merry Wives of Windsor serves to demonstrate the futility in revenge, jealousy, and shares in delight for sarcasm, farcical humour, and a scandal. Falstaff, the same but considerably different Falstaff of Henry IV fame now finds himself lusting for Margaret Page and Alice Ford, the wives of Windsor wealth. As theatres remain dark, The Globe invites those at home to experience a lesser-known Shakespeare play in a recording of their 2019 production.

Navigating the trip-hazards of narrative, Elle While’s direction of a notoriously easy story to over-load somewhat pays off. Fitting for a Shakespearean comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor has, at its core, a rather simple two-act structure with a dual narrative. That of the suitor’s pursuit of Anne Page, and Falstaff’s exploits in attempts to seduce the wives of Windsor. Yet, more often than not, the strands of interactions and characters congeal and cause difficulties for audiences to form a coherent story. Attempting to separate these strands, While achieves just enough to create concise story elements, without diluting the intensity of the cast.

Trouble is, when you share a stage with larger-than-life characters, with equally vibrant performances, some of the less dominant characters ebb away in the sea of chaos. Particularly guilty is Zach Wyatt in the role of Fenton. There’s a detachment from the language, a recitation for the script not out of passion, but from memory. No impact is left, and in truth, his entire character is forgotten the moment another player takes the stage. It severely hinders the secondary story within the narrative, saved only by the side-splitting ludicrous antics of Dr Caius (Richard Katz) or the production’s finest asset outside of Pearce Quigley, Anita Reynolds turning in an engrossing Mistress Quickley.

Conversely, Quigley’s Falstaff will cement the production in memory. His audience interactions, farcical and yet, never straying into pantomime will create lasting impacts. It’s an authentic Shakespearean atmosphere, the blurring between the audience and the cast for brief snippets, not overstaying or falling into a hammy showcase. Evident by the audience’s faces, the capability to now witness the reactions as Falstaff blunders into, or spits Sack out onto the unfortunate front rows is something only achieved with the filming of these events. We’ve all been sitting in the circle, craning necks to watch someone flush red as the cast pick a victim, but the filming of Merry Wives allows us to be involved with the interaction, significantly heightening the laugh value.

Occasionally though, the camera work is heavily edited, drawing the firmest line between live theatre and filmmaking. There is little editing process in theatre, no cuts or split-second angle changes. The rule of general cinema is never to hold a shot for more than a few seconds. Well, theatre takes the reverse. In moments of agony or professions of emotion, a rare occurrence in The Merry Wives, the last thing needed is a series of transitional angle changes when, in reality, we just want to watch the performance unfold in a steady shot.

Few rank The Merry Wives of Windsor as a triumphant piece of Shakespeare. It strides out of the gate with promise, but quickly the pace deteriorates as characters lose their charm and despite While’s best efforts, the momentum unravels. The Globe’s recent production though has strong merits in Pearce Quigley’s performance, tremendous supporting roles, and a pleasant live band. So, have someone pour you a quart of sack, dismiss the staff and embrace a farcical comedy, but be wary of who might be courting your partner as you do…

The Merry Wives of Windsor is free to stream via YouTube until June 14th: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBlQ3z3GRjs

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-merry-wives-of-windsor-globe-player/

Edinburgh Tradfest – Wild Mountain Thyme

With thirty-six artists spanning the globe, performing one of most popular Scottish/Irish folk songs Wild Mountain Thyme, The Edinburgh Tradfest is marking what would have been its launch day in the best possible way, bringing the heart of tradition and music into the comfort of our homes.

At noon on May 1st, the day the festival was due to launch, Edinburgh Tradfest is releasing a recording and video of the popular song via YouTube, with the link provided from social media. Coming from local and far, artists from Scotland, Ireland, England, California, Nova Scotia and Norway have recorded themselves for the project under the guiding eye of Traditional Artist in Residence Mike Vass, edited by Edinburgh video maker Ruth Barrie from Waltzer Films.

Noted artists for the recording include but are not limited to, acclaimed folk musician and original festival headliner Eliza Carthy; Fiona Hunter, Rachel Newton, James Mackintosh, Shetland fiddlers including Catriona Macdonald and Chris Stout, accordion player Phil Alexander, and Irish folk-singer Daoirí Farrell. A full list of performers can be found below.

Selected for its uplifting ability with the Scottish people, Wild Mountain Thyme is likely to bring comfort to those music fans and traditional enthusiast across the world during these trying times, where often tradition is a solace to those whose families are separated. While no easy task in formulating this recording, the team has come together to craft something they are no-doubt proud of and fittingly mark the occasion. 

Notably, the recording also signals the start of the festival’s fundraising campaign for their 2021 season, already brimming with ideas to showcase the best in traditional arts: https://www.givey.com/edinburghtradfest2021

Released on YouTube, make sure you’re following Edinburgh Tradfest online to find out more:

edinburghtradfest.com, Twitter.com/@EdinTradfest, Facebook.com/tradfestedinburgh, Instagram.com/@EdinTradfest

Full Performance listing:

Lead vocals: Eliza Carthy, Fiona Hunter (Malinky), Steve Byrne (Malinky), Mike Vass (Malinky), Daoirí Farrell, Nuala Kennedy, A.J Roach, Olivia Ross (The Shee), Kaela Rowan (Shooglenifty), J.P Cormier, Ciorstaidh Chaimbeul (Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail)

Fiddles: Holli Scott (Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail), Fiona MacAskill (Kinnaris Quintet), Aileen Reid (Kinnaris Quintet), Laura Wilkie (Kinnaris Quintet), Eilidh Shaw (Shooglenifty), Sam Sweeney, Catriona Macdonald (Shetland Springs), Chris Stout (Shetland Springs), Kevin Henderson (Shetland Springs), Ross Couper (Shetland Springs), Margaret Robertson (Shetland Springs), Mike Vass (Malinky)

Accordion: Phil Alexander (Moishe’s Bagel)

Clarsàch: Rachel Newton (The Shee)

Whistle/flute: Ali Hutton (Old Blind Dogs), Mark Dunlop (Malinky)

Pipes: Malin Lewis 

Mandolin: Laura-Beth Salter (Kinnaris Quintet)

Guitar: Kaela Rowan (Shooglenifty), Jenn Butterworth (Kinnaris Quintet)

Pedal steel: Ross Martin (Dàimh)

Banjo: Evie Ladin

Bass: Keith Terry

Cittern: Aaron Jones (Old Blind Dogs)

Bouzouki: Steve Byrne

Drums/percussion: James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), Donald Hay (Old Blind Dogs), Signy Jakobsdóttir (The Shee)

Trojan Horse – Traverse Theare

Written by Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead

Directed by Matt Woodhead

Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.

Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in. 

Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.

Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.

For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real0life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.

Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent. 

The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.

Photo credit – Ant Robling