Nottingham Shakespeare Society
November 19th 2019
'The Merry Wives of Windsor'
A Reading by Nottingham High School students
A well-established group like The Nottingham Shakespeare Society develops its own quirks and traditions over the years. To my mind, one of the best is the annual visit from Nottingham High School students.
Last week, 15 students, the largest group yet apparently, and their drama teacher came to give us a reading of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. The play had been cleverly cut by the Head of Drama and gave us an excellent evening’s entertainment. Ranged in a semi-circle in front of a (I thought, disappointingly small) audience, the sixth formers and one Year 11 boy gave us a generally fluent and polished reading of the play. They picked up cues and worked well together to deliver the story. Their enthusiasm and willingness to tackle Shakespeare’s syntax and language was admirable. Our members are generally faced with roles written for characters younger than ourselves (pace Lear, perhaps). This evening, 16-18 year- olds were delivering characters such as Falstaff old enough to be their grandparents!
We were also treated to an unexpected bonus as one of students gave us an a cappella rendition of Quilter’s “Come away death” to begin the second half of the evening.
Otherwise, the reading was, like all good productions, a team effort as the cast brought this rather neglected play to life. Critics have generally panned it, saying it was written in haste and not up to Shakespeare’s usual standard. Queen Elizabeth had wanted to see ‘Falstaff in love’ so Shakespeare resurrected him (in the manner of Sherlock Holmes) and wrote the play to be performed, people think, in Greenwich on St George’s Day 1597. I certainly wasn’t the only one in the audience who had never seen a theatre production (though I’d seen Verdi’s opera) and so this was a good opportunity to encounter it. Written mostly in prose and, blatantly racist, fattist, and sexist, it romped along and managed to work itself into a happy ending with generally good grace and without much real loss of face. In short, it was fun! And quite a change from all the Lear doom and gloom we’ve faced recently. The cast enjoyed it too, I felt, often relishing quite arcane – and certainly quite risqué – allusions. I hope we might see some of them on December 3rd for William Ruff’s lecture on the play. Many thanks to them all and their teachers. All good wishes to those taking public exams and applying to university this term. Hope to see some of you next year!
Review by Julia Pirie