Shakespeare's Merry Wives a real riot

It may not be one of Shakespeare's better known works, but Juliet Scrine believes The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of the more fun plays to perform.

The director of the Eaton George Theatre Company's upcoming production of the play for this year's Shakespeare in the Gardens season says the story will entertain both kids and adults and provides an opportunity for the actors to embrace physical comedy.

"I like doing plays for laughs and this play has a lot of opportunities to do some real slapstick sort of theatre," she says.

"It's certainly not a serious play, it's about playing jokes on each other, and I saw it as a great family play, something you can bring kids along to and they will enjoy the visual comedy part of it and the parents will enjoy the subtext that's going on as well."

The Merry Wives of Windsor features Sir John Falstaff, the beloved character from the Bard's Henry IV plays, arriving in the town of Windsor a little strapped for cash. To support himself, he decides to woo two married women - Mistress Page and Mistress Ford - by sending them identical love letters in the hopes one will succumb to his charms.

Unfortunately for Falstaff, the women are smarter than he gives them credit for and they decide to toy with him, playing a series of tricks on the ageing and overweight knight.

A world away from the tragedies and histories that make up the bulk of Shakespeare's folio, the mythology around this play is that Queen Elizabeth I loved the character of Falstaff so much that she requested the playwright to include him in another play that showed him in love, commissioned for an Order of the Garter feast.

Scrine has set this adaptation of the play in the 1950s because she felt the attitudes of the two main women suited the era.

"In the '50s women weren't as independent as they are now and you were pretty much tied to your husband in what was expected of you, and the play's quite a bit like that. The wives are very '50s wives, we've really embraced that whole era and how society was," she says.

The costumes, especially, reflect the style of the era and Scrine says there is a little Marlon Brando in Lajos Hamers's portrayal of Falstaff.

"As well as the actual play, it's been really fun exploring those '50s iconic characters as well," she says.

While the set is minimal, relying on the botanic gardens themselves for set dressing, Scrine thinks this is an advantage because the audience members have to use their imaginations more, and it allows the acting to remain the focus.

"I mean, in the Globe Theatre Shakespeare didn't have all these elaborate sets we have now, it's done with the acting and it's such a beautiful setting there anyway."

The Shakespeare in the Gardens performance of the play is an abridged version, running for just over two hours rather than the usual three.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

February 1 - 23

Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Tickets: www.trybooking.com or call 4267 3920

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