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Review of The Merry Wives Of Windsor performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

My ongoing policy to avoid William Shakespeare as much as possible is as successful as many government ones over the years. A Small Mind is not for turning! However he always, endlessly ends up back sitting watching another of the bards many (and long) tales.

The Merry Wives Of Windsor has the one thing going for it in my mind from the bard, in that it is one of the comedies. I find them more bearable, but unfortunately locally there seems to have been very few of them performed. So for every comedy I have seen (and this would be only my third live), I have seen an endless stream of dead bodies on stage at the end of some horrific tragedy. Trepidation therefore was high as I approached another prospect of three hours of Shakespeare.

Having said all this, I have managed to enjoy the University performances the most because they tend to do something different. This time the different had begun before the play started as when entering the inferno, otherwise known as the Underground, we were greeted to an Andrews Sisters-esque experience. Singing a collection of old tunes, including The Lady Is A Tramp and I Get A Kick Out Of You was Madeleine Hagerty (Bardolph), accompanied by a little four piece band with additional vocal accompaniments and on keys by Caroline Avis (Pistol). It was indeed a wonderful intro to the show and a winning one for myself as a nervous Shakespeare viewer. The duo of singers returned often during the performance, cleverly bridging the scene changes, and were joined in their musical interludes by Grace Aitken (Nim) and Sophie Guiver (Host) to create some wonderful moments. My favourite tune had to be the wonderful Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, which Madeleine performed serious, but was brilliantly upstaged by Caroline's input. Just brilliant!

So that's three hundred words done, but time to stop avoiding that elephant, maybe I better talk about the Shakespeare. It was just simply brilliant. Nineteen cast members and for me not a dud performance among them, I would almost be so bold that it was the best overall performance I have seen from one of the main University shows. Even those apparently minor roles like Robin (Jared Gregory), Rugby (Cynthia Lebbos) and Simple (Lucy Kitson) were all played pitch perfect, with Jared in particular happily loosing all dignity with his final scene attire.

I am challenged not to mention everyone in this performance, so I suspect I might have to. So with a deep breath!

Benjamin Williams is quite brilliant as the fool of the piece (always my favourite character in Shakespeare). His buffoonery is really quite wonderful as are the wonderful mannerisms when not speaking but simply observing.

Amy Weaver as Anne Page is quite sweet and delightfully delicate and in her dance scene with the officer, Fenton (Jordan Gray), they both combine to make a lovely tender moment.

Suzannah Cassels (Mistress Quickly) is a formidable predator, very much in the face of more than a few of the characters. Also quite gloriously over the top is Neizan Fernadez who plays the Dr Caius whom she serves. A ridiculously over the top performance with crazy loping movement and accent. A constant insanity on stage.

The welsh minister of Evans played by Kieran Hansell is also a crazy character at times, wonderfully played and with some expert pratfalls as well.

I loved Amber Mae's Shallow, a great little performance and whom reminded me greatly of last years third year Brigette Wellbelove and that from me goes as high praise. I look forward to seeing what role she has next.

The sparring and conniving wives Mistress Ford and Page played by Emma Smyth and Sharni Tapako-Brown are both excellent. I particularly liked Sharni's devilish turn and stalking gait.

Their husbands are also a delight with Vandreas Richards oozing upper class as Page, while Jake Rivers is great as Ford, but even better as his disguised Brook. A mop headed comedy delight.

Last but absolutely not least we have the big character in every sense of Falstaff. Seizing the iconic role and making it his own in a hugely entertaining and very physical performance is Stuart Warren. I wouldn't go as far to say his is the star of the show, as in this show there were performances to savour aplenty. However he truly is superb and at the end you can certainly tell he has put everything into it.

So the cast is done, so a vital mention to director Emily Jenkins, who has with skill created an enjoyable and accessible version of the Shakespeare play which has scene changes of ease, wonderful use of music. This coupled with the glorious fairy scene at the end and an incredibly brilliant final dance routine (how can the cast be that nimble after that production?), she has created a piece of theatre to savour. Even for myself, a reluctant (but ever present) bard viewer. Stunning and entertaining from the before the start to the very final finish. I left with not a hint of melancholy.


Performance reviewed: Thursday 4th June, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton.

The Merry Wives Of Windsor is one of twos shows being performed at the Royal by the University Of Northampton BA (Hons) Actors between Thursday 4th June and Saturday 6th June, 2015

Details of both can be found here:
The Merry Wives Of Windsor
The Winter's Tale

Details of Royal & Derngate can be found by visiting their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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