Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Sorry Wives' Tale; Theatre

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Sorry Wives' Tale; Theatre

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

Merry Wives - The Musical Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon *

WHILE an epidemic of song and dance productions spreads through the West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company embarks on an expensive gamble, takes leave of the straight stuff and inflicts this flamboyantly awful, musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor upon us.

I came out whistling in the dark, lamenting the poverty of music and songs and the lumbering, heavy-handed performance style. Gregory Doran, adaptor and director of what is surely Shakespeare's weakest play, describes this farcical comedy of social comeuppance as a "great Shakespearean orange" from which he, the composer Paul English by and lyricist Ranjit Bolt have laboured for two years, " trying to extract all the juice". On the evidence of last night's performance, the trio have little more to show for their commitment than dryish segments, with excess pips and peel.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which John Falstaff aims to seduce either the married Mistress Ford or her friend Mistress Page and altogether misses, was turned operatic by both Verdi and Vaughan Williams in their highly individual styles.

By contrast, Englishby's untuneful score is, as Dryden wrote in one of his famous sneers, "everything by starts and nothing long". Its 15 songs sound mistily derivative, variously abounding with faint echoes of Ivor Novello, Vivian Ellis, Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend, Les Miserables and My Fair Lady, with Andrew Lloyd Webber-style ballads for the would-be lovers, Martin Crewe's ardent Fenton and Scarlett Strallen's bland Anne.

Tap, tango and beating time on pots and pans add to the mixed stylistic effect. The lyrics of Bolt, an experienced translator but new to song-writing, constitute a wit-free zone in which you are left to wander, savouring phrases of choice ineptitude: "Mix our souls in mutual bliss", "my heart is ready to crack" and "you shine so dazzling and so bright" are just a few of the assorted horrors. …

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