AMATEUR Players of Sherborne is one of 86 companies, from almost 200 applicants, to have been chosen to take part in the 2014 Royal Shakespeare Company Open Stages project – a special year also celebrating the 450th anniversary of the birth of the Bard.
With professional mentors and input from young actors from local schools, director John Crabtree chose to set his Merry Wives not only in the present day but in the round at the Digby Hall.
The staging itself caused some issues, requiring large pieces of furniture to be wheeled up onto the raised dais, which was noisy for the actors to walk on and made voice projection difficult for all but the loudest and most experienced.
Of course, the story of an elderly man, run to fat and impecunious, imagining he can still attract younger women, is a timeless one, as is marital jealousy and parental discord over the choice of a daughter’s suitor, so there is no problem about the updating.
And this production, with its interesting choice of music from Michael Nyman’s Draughtsman’s Contract score to an original song by Annabel Thornton (who also played Anne Page charmingly), had some excellent performances.
In the title roles, Jo Simpson as Alice Ford and Bev Taylor-Wade as Meg Page, had a whale of a time, Mistress Page to the manor born in jodhpurs and Mistress Ford full of plump promise.
Matt Taylor-Wade was the hilariously nerdy Slender, complete with high pitched giggle, and Alan Morris made the very most of the jealous Ford, contrasting him delightfully with his alter-ego, Brook.
Shakespeare wrote his play apparently at the request of Queen Elizabeth, who wanted to see more of the Fat Knight from the Henry plays, and the comic moments include Falstaff (Adrian Thorpe) being thrown into the Thames from a laundry basket and disguised as a witchy aunt … it’s a pantomime, really.
I can’t help feeling that both cast and audience would have been better served by a more conventional staging, perhaps with an apron to take the stage into the auditorium, as the sheer physical difficulties of this cruciform dais did tend to distract from the action and the words.