The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0991  Tuesday, 7 November 2006

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Subject: 	Judi Dench at Stratford


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 

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.


S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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