The Merry Wives of Windsor


Salisbury Journal

12:28pm Thursday 26th September

THE Merry Wives of Windsor, performed by Creative Cow at Fisherton Mill in Salisbury on Tuesday evening, was hilarious from start to finish.It follows the story of well-known Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff and his failed attempts to seduce two of Windsor’s wealthy wives to give him access to their money. Katherine Senior was brilliant as Mistress Page and Mistress Quickly, while Sean Aydon injected a lot of energy into proceedings as Fenton, Simple, Nym and Robin. Director Amanda Knott keeps things simple and easy to follow, and the pace is kept up throughout. The stage is small at Fisherton Mill with just enough room for a small audience, which made us feel as though we were right at the heart of the action. The evening included a gourmet three-course supper, with the courses spread out between acts. I think this worked very well, and the food was delicious. At the end of the play, we had tea and clementine and almond syrup cake, which was gorgeous and the perfect end to a fantastic evening.

The Stage

Published Monday 23 September 2013 at 11:50 by Paul Vale

Aside from the glorious and occasionally bawdy humour of this, one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies, the play is original in that its characters are drawn from the burgeoning middle classes of Shakespeare’s day. The Merry Wives of Windsor is an ode to comfortable living in suburban London and the presence of Sir John Falstaff, already a well-established character in theatrical tradition, is the icing on the cake. Creative Cow has deftly edited the text, bringing the running time down and the keeping the pace up with a very small company and much - perhaps too much - doubling of actors.

Amanda Knott’s direction has touches of magic in the staging, keeping everything simple, but the bare bones company means that there are moments of comic power lost. Thankfully the tiny company rises to the challenge and there are some strong performances, none more so than Jack Hulland as Falstaff, who captures both the hedonism and self-delusion of the character perfectly. There are also neat performances from both Katherine Senior as Mistress Quickly and Maia Gibbons as Anne Page who double to play the titular wives. There is also a notably energetic performance from Sean Aydon as Fenton, while turning in an equally charming performance as the servant boy Robin.

Visually it is difficult to ascertain the value of certain artistic choices, particularly the costumes, which tend to lack either the flair or vulgarity of the middle class, although with Jack Wharrier playing Ford, Dr Cauis, Slender and the Host of the Garter Inn, the necessity for quick changes is evidently paramount.

Migrant Press Review

Feeling a bit low? Lost your mojo? Then I recommend you catch a cheery performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor by the Creative Cow touring rep theatre company. A good test of an acting troupe is how well it responds to a poor turnout in a matinee. This troupe was faced with a poor turnout at a matinee, with an audience of pensioners, in Peterborough on a rainy Wednesday in October. Not particularly promising. However, from Jack Hulland's first chuckle as the corpulent Falstaff you knew the players were up for it. Indeed what proceeded was one of most enjoyable performances I have ever seen. Before the lights dimmed and that first chuckle echoed around the theatre, a nice old lady three empty seats away - who obviously knew her onions - announced that she had seen the production in Chesterfield, and pronounced it "brilliant." Chatting with director, Amanda Knott, after that performance, she had asked the whereabouts of the next date - and so she was here, having traveled to Peterborough on her own to see it again, walking stick and all. Any play attracting septuagenarian groupies is a very good sign. The old lady was right. This is one of those rare productions where everybody involved in the play is terrific. Merry Wives is a tricky play to pull off. Too little verve, and much of the fun is lost. Too much, and it easily slips into clownish pastiche. The Creative Cow ensemble  pitched it just right, imbuing the characters with light authenticity, without rendering them cartoonish. If you have not seen Merry Wives, it is a sexy sit com, where events orbit around the colossal figure of Sir John Falstaff. The old soldier had previously appeared in Henry IV pts 1 and 2, as the young Prince Hal's bawdy drinking associate at the Boar's Head Tavern. There he might have rested on his laurels but for Queen Elizabeth, who loved the character so much she ordered a full revival. In Merry Wives, Falstaff roars back to life in glorious fashion for two riotous hours, but the laughs echoing at the end are the last we hear from him. In the later play when Prince Hal is all grown up as Henry V, Shakespeare kills Falstaff off, albeit with all due mourning and honours. The canny Bard was obviously pre-empting any clamour for a Falstaff IV, even by royal appointment. The Bard was probably right to do this, as Sir John Falstaff is almost too dominant, too popular . . . too much. Whereas everybody enjoys the jolly bawd, the play is much more than him, and the themes are serious. Merry Wives is actually an incisive examination of the power of women - a feminist farce, critiquing male power, arrogance and stupidity. No wonder the ball-busting Virgin Queen loved it so much. Falstaff and female empowerment? This must have ticked all of Bess's boxes. The tricky bit for a director is to allow Falstaff free rein, without him dominating the proceedings and obscuring the themes. Jack Hulland's performance as the Knight was perfectly pitched in this respect- big chested, big stomached, big voiced, but without going over the top. Perhaps the best aspect of Hulland's performance was the way he laced the bravado with vulnerability, and hinted at a rather lost person inside. Hulland thus cleverly imbued this roaring braggart with a heart, so much that I wish  the Bard had not called time on him. Falstaff IV would be something worth watching - if played by Jack Hulland. The other actors were wonderful in different ways. Katherine Senior gave a superb, sharp, performance throughout. With a West Country burr, she played Mistress Quickly with wit, wisdom and mischief. As her other character, Mistress Page (one of the two main Merry Wives), she played a middle class, clever woman with such energy and fun, I smiled all the way through it. Katherine Senior is a very talented actress, and it was a thrill to sit through a performance of this calibre. The other Merry Wife, Mistress Ford, was played beautifully by the Maia Gibbons. Ms Gibbons recently tweeted how excited she was to be performing in this play, and this enthusiasm shone through the cheerful machinations. With every scheme and giggle Maia Gibbons brought sunshine to a rainy day in Peterborough. As with Katherine Senior, she played two roles, and her portrayal of the young, headstrong Anne Page defying her parents in love - and succeeding - was terrific. With Falstaff and two clever Merry Wives on stage, you would think that the other actors might not get a look in. Far from it, Sean Aydon played not one but four roles, and did so entertainingly in each case. I particularly liked his rendition of Simple, which showed great comic timing, with little knowing glances at the audience. The two husbands were played by Jack Wharrier as Ford, and Jonathan Parish as Page. Both were excellent, with Jack Wharrier eliciting spontaneous applause for his engaging, quick-witted delivery.  As you may have noticed, I only write about performances I actually like. Creative Cow's Merry Wives is among the best I have ever seen. Inventive, funny, skillful, incisive, Amanda Knox and the fine actors deserve your support, and I recommend you catch one of the remaining shows if you can. When Katherine Senior flicks you a mischievous glance, you will smile and thank your lucky stars you did.

The Fine Times Recorder

THE beautiful barns of Ashley Wood Farm near Tisbury were a home-from- home for the Creative Cow company, whose rehearsals are held in a Devon agricultural building with perplexed cows looking on. On 29th September the new production of Shakespeare’s farcical comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed at the “new” Tisbury venue after the company’s successful performances in the Victoria Hall – and a delightful move it was. Amanda Knott’s fast and furious production manages to abridge the original so that it can be performed by six actors, with none of the story or the fun missed. Company regular Jack Hulland is the ideal man to play the fat knight Sir John Falstaff, a drunken and cowardly elderly man who is still convinced of his own irresistible attractions for women. When he discovers that he has eaten and drunk his way though his meagre funds, he decides to woo the wife of a wealthy merchant in Windsor, where he now lives. And just in the unlikely event that she doesn’t succumb to his charms, he might as well woo a second wife. But it never occurs to him that the two women might exchange confidences, and before long Mistress Page and Mistress Ford have conspired to take revenge on Falstaff’s importunate behaviour. This production is big on movement and spectacle, starting with the wives circling the table at which the knight guzzles, and ending in a fairy-lit wood, Falstaff replete with antlers and the rest as nipping fairies. There are terrific performances, notably from Katherine Senior as a Margot-esque Mistress Page and a hilariously slow of speech Mistress Quickly, and recent graduate Sean Aydon as a host of well defined characters. Jack Wharrier, a memorable Mercutio with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, joins Creative Cow as two of Ann Page’s suitors, the language mangling Dr Cauis and the foppish Slender, as well as the jealous Ford and the Host of the Garter. Take your eyes off the action for a second and one of the company is someone else in this inventive and hugely enjoyable production. It returns to the south west from Thursday 31st October to Saturday 2nd November at the New Theatre in Exeter and ends the tour at the Regal in Minehead on Sunday 3rd November.