Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Judi Dench to Star at Stratford

Anyone who regards Shakespeare as a stuffy business must have performed something of a double-take when, halfway down the RSC's Complete Works programme, two little words appeared after Merry Wives.

This Christmas, with the Works project in full flow and the traditional festive production ruled out, the company stages only its second-ever 'The Musical'. And in Dame Judi Dench they've roped one of the theatrical world's biggest stars into the fun.

Sir John Falstaff is in need of cash and decides to hedge his bets by courting the wealthy Mistress Ford and Mistress Page at the same time. But when they compare love-letters and see through the plan - with more than a little help from Mistress Quickly (Dench) - the riotous knight gets his just desserts. Along the way, there will be eyebrow-raising twists, liberties taken with the text and at least one hoe down, explained associate director Gregory Doran. For him it all started with a song composer Paul Englishby wrote for a recent production of The Tamer Tamed, a response to The Taming of the Shrew, called The Woman Must Wear the Breeches.

Doran said: "I remember we started to think about other plays where music might play a bigger part. Then we did All's Well that Ends Well with Judi Dench and she loved Paul's music in that, so the germ of the idea appeared. Tamer Tamed became the initial inspiration - a sort of mix of country and western and some softer ballads. Without giving too much away we are hoping the setting will at first seem quite traditional, as in Merrie Olde Englande, but with several anarchic twists."

Doran explained how Merry Wives was the perfect candidate for the makeover. He added: "It was written in two weeks by Shakespeare in response to a request by Queen Elizabeth, who wanted to see a play where Falstaff is in love. This meant it has always been seen as entertainment as much as a classic play, and therefore lends itself to 'versions' of all sorts.

"It's also one of the longest comedies and not known for its great poetry - so in this version there are some scenes which are sung through with no dialogue at all, for example the Buck Basket scene. Songs have been added to enhance the comedy or beef up relationships, but whilst adapting I have noticed there is certainly a lot of the original text left."

For trooper Dame Judi, meanwhile, the whole thing is "just the next job, really". It's not as if she can't 'do' song and dance - after all she's been Sally Bowles in Cabaret and was Adriana the last time the RSC went a bit musical, with Trevor Nunn and Guy Woolfenden's The Comedy of Errors in 1976. She added: "That's the life of an actor - you can go from doing Hamlet to a light comedy or musical and it's all in the same spectrum. You still have to be that character and tell that story. I remember Hal Prince, who directed me in Cabaret, saying to me 'you shouldn't have to stop to sing a song in a musical; it should be a logical step that takes you onto the next stage of the story, not embroidered on'. I've never forgotten that - I think it's a really good tip." She felt the unusual version might help hook a younger audience on Shakespeare, adding: "I know that after we did the musical version of Comedy of Errors quite a few came back to see other things at the RSC as a result. It really depends on how well we do it. There is nothing more off-putting to audiences new to theatre than seeing a bad production - so we had better make a good job of it!"

RSC debutant Simon Callow will take over from Desmond Barrit in the role of Falstaff, after the latter suffered a foot injury, it has been announced.

Merry Wives The Musical opens at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on December 2, and runs until February 10. Contact the RSC box office on 0870 609110.


Post a Comment

<< Home

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from