July 16 2002
OPEN-AIR BARD LIGHTS UP THE NIGHT SKY
The Merry Wives of Windsor
by David Adams
I don’t know what it was like your side of the Offa’s Dyke but in Ludlow it was the first clear night sky for ages –
and watching open-air Shakespeare in pouring rain is not my idea of summer fun.
But more surprising than the lack of umbrellas was the sheer exuberant panache of this year’s Ludlow Festival production.
Even more surprising to find that this exceptionally enjoyable Shakespeare, at a venue renowned for its quality, was from a
There was nothing to say it was Welsh, but it was, from Phillip Madoc as the outrageous obese philanderer
Falstaff to relative newcomer Morgan Rhys, who managed to make an impression even in the relatively small role
of Fenton, the wooer of the sexy daughter of one of those Merry Wives.
The reason that it has a Welsh cast is Michael Bogdanov, Wales’ most eminent theatre director and the
man in charge of this year’s Ludlow production.
It’s also the reason why this is a piece of accessible Shakespeare, delightfully inventive, an energetic version of
what is far from one of the Bard’s best works that succeeds because of the ensemble playing which also allows
for actors to do their own thing.
Hence the ever-excellent but under-rated maverick Russell Gomer was nearly allowed to steal the show as the
maniacally jealous husband. That’s despite the presence in the cast of that other inspired performer Dorien Thomas,
who makes the French Dr Caius a lot more than is in the script.
Indeed the cream of Welsh theatre was here in Ludlow,
many getting the chance to excel in a way that sometimes
has only been hinted at before – Nickie Rainsford and Kath Dimery as the scheming wives, Adrienne O’Sullivan as
the buxom Mistress Quickly, Ray Llewellyn as the mischievous JP Shallow, Bill Bellamy as the boring George Page,
Simon Armstrong as the host of the Star and Garter, Brendan Charleson as Bardoph.
And let’s hope that we see more of Mr Rhys and, indeed, Eve Myles, who made his young fiancée Ann a beautifully randy teenager.
In fact, what we should be demanding is that this superb show, easily one of the best Welsh Shakespeare productions that I have seen, gets a tour in Wales itself.
Mind you, it would probably rain.