HER Majesty Queen Elizabeth I was apparently so taken by Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, that she asked for more of him after the Henry IV plays, and the playwright obliged with a more farcical view of the fat knight in The Merry Wives of Windsor, before reporting his death in Henry V.
The new play by Michael Whitaker (with prodigious help from the Bard) was performed by Tisbury Arts Group in the historic Commandery at Ansty – the perfect setting in period terms but providing its own challenges for both actors, backstage staff and audiences. The stone of the ancient buiding, with its beautiful new roof, provided an atmospheric backdrop to the action, which cherry picks Prince Hal’s time in the East Cheap inns and the hilarious Gad’s Hill robbery, interposes the washing basket scene from the Merry Wives, Hal’s cruel rejection of his former friends and Falstaff’s poignantly reported demise.
Sincce the Whitaker compendium is called The Falstaff Chronicles the central figure must really be larger than life, and so is Peter Coulson, a local drama teacher who bears his bulk lightly and perfectly conveys how and why Falstaff was charismatic and loveable.
Not so the prince, more of a Gove than a hero in the making, as played by Shaftesbury’s Alex Chase. Here was a man who laughs a lot but has absolutley no humour in his cold soul.
Another Shaftesbury import, Jerome Swan, brought his usual dignity to Henry IV.
Joanna Broad’s production called for frequent moving of the tavern bar on and off the wide, shallow stage (the seats were tiered along one side of the acting space.)
Full praise for Billy Bacon’s sound. Not only was the music ideally chosen, but every sound cue in this difficult space was perfect. The costumes were splendid, too.
In this large company there were stand-out performances, notably from merry wives Jo Frost (Page) and Liz Coyle Camp (Ford) and Dan Evans as her jealous husband. The energy surged at their appearances.
Maggie Paul was a perfect Mistress Quickly, and you certainly believed in the devotion of Doll Tearsheet (Nicola Gee) for the fat knight. John Bertenshaw’s Bardolph was another loveable character.
Everyone in the cast had obviously worked hard to capture not only the authentic period, but the spirit of Shakespeare’s characters, cleverly interwoven by Mr Whitaker. No surprise it was a sell out.