That old scoundrel Sir John Falstaff, erstwhile pal of Prince Hal, is down on his luck. Seeing a way to restore his fortunes, he schemes to seduce both Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, the wives of two wealthy merchants.
He sends them identical love letters, but his double-dealing ruse is discovered, and the two ladies determine to teach him a lesson.
Meanwhile, the irrationally jealous Frank Ford has heard of Falstaff’s plan and decides to test his wife’s fidelity. And in a subplot of young love, the Pages’ daughter, Anne, is pursued by three suitors, each of whom is paying Falstaff’s old crony Mistress Quickly to push their cause.
There is much mayhem, dodgy disguises, misdirected letters, a duel and a midnight denouement, before the tangle is unraveled, the men-behaving-badly get their comeuppance, and the good prevail.
Shakespeare’s bright and breezy comedy of sexual jealousy, where clever women are forced to put up with dull, ego-centric men, is given an 80s-Australia reboot, the fun played out against a landscape of suburban aspirations and neon-hued bad taste.
New Theatre welcomes Victor Kalka in his debut at the helm of a production (though he has previously brought his design skills to our stage with his set for Picnic at Hanging Rock and lighting for Once in Royal David’s City).
“I wanted to do the play because it’s madcap comic fun,” says Victor. “And god knows, we need a good laugh after the awful two years we’ve experienced.”
“If you believe the story that Shakespeare wrote it in two weeks for Queen Elizabeth I because she wanted another Falstaff play.”
“You can see him throwing every comic element he can come up with at it: secret plots, mistaken identities, sassy servants, failed seduction attempts, thwarted duels – it’s all there.”
“On top of all this, it’s a play in which the women prevail by being smarter and more savvy than the men around them.”
Any why 80s Australia as a setting? “It’s the only play Shakespeare wrote that was contemporaneous; he was satirising the aspirational merchant-class of Elizabethan times, and placing the story in a familiar milieu,” said Kalka.
“The play is about status and class, and I can’t think of a more appropriate setting for these themes than ‘the burbs’. I’m hoping to engender equal feelings of nostalgia and cringe in the audience.”
Director & Designer: Victor Kalka | Featuring: Thom Blake, Garreth Cruikshank, Rob Ferguson, Roslyn Hicks, Allan Hough, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Priyanka Karunanithi, Jessie Lancaster, Dwayne Lawler, Ciaran O’Riordan, Cheng Tang, Rob Thompson, Emma Throssell, Cheryl Ward, Harry Winsome, Olivia Xegas | Lighting Designer: Jas Borsovszky | Costume Designer: James Cao | Sound Designer: Georgia Condon | Dramaturg: Samuel Webster | Assistant Director: Caitlin Williams | Stage Manager: Sai Sourya Kasivajjula
The Merry Wives of Windsor
New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 23 April – 21 May 2022
Information and Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au
Image: The Merry Wives of Windsor – photo by Bob Seary