The Merry Wives of Windsor

Clocktower Lawn, University of Auckland, Auckland

18/02/2017 - 26/02/2017

Auckland Outdoor Shakespeare Festival 2017

Production Details


Auckland Outdoor Summer Shakespeare are ramping up the festival feel with even more on offer from 14 February – 11 March 2017, celebrating their return to the University of Auckland Clock Tower. The magical, open-air venue will host two of Shakespeare’s plays, a series of sonnets, and a gallery of local artwork!  

The Merry Wives of Windsor – With a career spanning three decades, theatre veteran Stuart Devenie (MNZM) directs a bold cast of 14 – 25 year olds from the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company. The show is set in the bubble gum era of the 1950s, when housewives ‘knew their place’ and knew how to pull the strings from behind the scenes. The Merry Wives of Windsor plays over two weekends in the afternoons before As You Like It, offering punters a whole evening of Shakespeare.

Since Summer Shakespeare first began in 1963, the not-for-profit charity has presented plays in almost every year, creating opportunities for students, young actors and directors to make their start, in a unique and iconic setting. Join NZ’s oldest outdoor Shakespeare production to enjoy the summer nights with As You Like It and the Summer Festival Programme.

Auckland Outdoor Summer Shakespeare Festival
14 February – 11 March
Beneath the University of Auckland Clock Tower, 22 Princes St, Auckland
18 & 19, 25 & 26 February 2017, 2pm and 5pm shows
Tickets: $18.50 Adults, $12 Concession/Students
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The wits of wily wives well played

Review by Leigh Sykes 19th Feb 2017

A popular story (first recorded by John Dennis in 1702 and Nicholas Rowe in 1709) about The Merry Wives of Windsor’s creation states that Queen Elizabeth I liked the character of Sir John Falstaff so much that she commanded Shakespeare to write a play about him being in love, and this play is the result.

The play is unusual for a number of reasons, including its ‘city comedy’ style, its very narrow focus, and in the fact that this is the only play in the Shakespearean canon to be named solely after female characters (all of the other titular females such as Cleopatra and Juliet share their play’s title with their male partners).

In his Director’s Notes, Stuart Devenie explains that in order to fit into a 60 minute slot, this production presents ‘”the most well-known sequence in the play; the laundry basket scene”. This means that we are served a compact slice of the play, presented as a 1950s-set episode of The Merry Wives of Windsor, complete with voice over (“this time on…”) and an opening song (Musical Direction by Cherie Moore) performed by the four-strong Basquettes.

The idea of the four-part harmony fits the setting really well, but unfortunately the execution of the singing often leaves me straining to hear. However, this is a clever package within which to present the action, and it achieves Devenie’s aim of emphasising a time that marked the “pinnacle of the ideology surrounding ‘the Housewife’.”

Some pre-show interaction with Falstaff (Reuben Bowen) and his servant Robin (Angus Kelsey) prepares us to plunge straight into the machinations of the plot, whereby Mistresses Page (Tamara Gussy) and Ford (Emma Campbell) have received identical letters from Falstaff professing his love. This opening scene suffers somewhat at this first performance from a lack of projection and enunciation, with Campbell adapting more quickly of the two performers. There is some good energy in the scene and the arrival of Ford (Arlo Green) and Page (Sam Meyerhoff), also with almost identical letters, continues this energy and raises the comedy level.

Green is one of the standouts of the production, enunciating the language clearly, including the audience and generating plenty of laughter with his physical and facial responses as the (almost pathologically) jealous husband. 

His scenes with Bowen are highlights of the production, with both performers able to fill the space with energy, good comic timing and well-honed characterisation. The ‘buck-basket’ scene in particular – where Ford (Green) discovers that he has been tricked by Falstaff (Bowen) hiding in a buck-basket in his own house – has the audience roaring with laughter.

The laundry basket scene itself is another highlight, where Campbell and Bowen play off each other with great energy and physicality, and where the Basquettes’ transformation into the serving ‘men’ of the Ford household is delightful. I am particularly struck by Shaman Theron’s commitment during this scene and find her reactions funny and fitting. When Mistress Page joins the scene, the comedy lifts another notch, as we are treated to some lovely ‘over-the-top’ playing for the benefit of the hidden Falstaff.

As the worldly-wise go-between Mistress Quickly, Carrisse Utai captures the spirit of the character beautifully. She is able to engage the audience effectively and her vivacity and characterisation is lovely.

This is a production that enables a cast of younger performers to develop their craft, and the most effective and able performances come from those performers who seem to be further along their development path. Devenie has drawn some fine performances from these actors, with a compact and generally well-paced edit of the play. The setting works well in creating a world where men believe they call the shots but where their wives are often wilier and more influential, and some of the action with the Basquettes is lovely.

Although this is a very short production of the play, the pace does slacken towards the end with the Anne Page/Fenton subplot, but the “Next time on The Merry Wives” ending is suitably funny and promises more misfortunes ahead for the self-deluding Falstaff. 

The cast finishes with a lively song-and-dance rendition of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ (Choreography by Brigitte Knight) ensuring a spirited end to the performance.


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