Merry Wives of Windsor Review

Brave blend of Bard and opera
Stratford Herald review.

It is a difficult task to blend opera with Shakespeare, but Consensus theatre group proved last week when it staged The Merry Wives of Windsor at Stratford Civic Hall that when it is done well, you’ve got a winning production on your hands. This theatre group was set up five years ago by Tim and Claire Johnson, specifically to fill a gap in the local amateur performing arts scene, and what they seem to have mastered is the art of bringing wonderful operatic music blended with well-chosen plays to a wider audience whose preference would have been either one or the other. This production was no exception. With a carefully -picked cast that balanced good acting with strong singing director Mr Johnson (who also played Fenton and Simple) had created a winning combination.

The cast worked well to produce a strong ensemble – many of them taking on more than one role. It was the first time this group had staged Shakespeare, but with what could be described as the cream of local actors taking on the challenge, the colourful characters of Merry Wives proved to be second nature. Husband-and-wife team Phil and Pamela Hickson proved to be the pivotal force on the acting front as the well rounded Falstaff and Mistress Quickly and Graham Robson’s manic French physician. Doctor Caius, was a treat. This, coupled with the excellent singing talents of Claire Johnson (Mistress Ford) and Joan Self (Mistress Page) – who boasted to be amateur but offered a world-class performance any professional would be proud of – and fine solos by Vivien Tomlinson as Mistress Anne Page and Mr Johnson, opera fans could not complain.

If there were any weaknesses an elaborate set would have given enough merit for a much longer run in the Stratford venue, had the production not have been on tour to other local towns and villages. The remainder of the cast, too many to list, also played well, but special mention should go to Tony Boyd-Williams who stepped in at the last minute to take on the role of Page in Saturday night’s performance in Henley after one cast member’s back injury was so severe it prevented him from taking to the stage.

It was a brave thing for Mr Johnson and Consensus to perform The Merry Wives of Windsor so soon after the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006 musical production – but their courage paid off.

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