Throughout Shakespeare BASH’d’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which plays at the Victory Cafe as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, I was continually struck, loudly, by one nagging question: Why are they yelling?
The cast of this production yell all their lines (fluctuating from between an 8/10 in volume to an 11/10) for the entire 90 minute play. There is nothing that robs an actor of the ability to create nuance, character development and realism like having them yell all their lines. There is nothing that robs a play of its sense of stakes and pacing like having the actors yell all their lines. There is nothing that makes an audience tune out as swiftly as a play where the actors yell all their lines. I have been wondering what James Wallis and Catherine Rainville’s concept was here. Are they yelling because Shakespeare’s own players may have yelled (because they performed in giant theatres, mostly outside, for rowdy lower class Elizabethan audiences who were allowed and encouraged to eat, drink, sword fight, talk, copulate, relieve themselves, leave and enter the theatre at will, and heckle and throw rotten food at the actors while the play was in progress)? Or were they yelling to show that most of the characters in this play are idiotic misogynists and that by yelling it makes it easier for the audience to tune them out?
It seems like Shakespeare BASH’d doesn’t trust that Shakespeare’s play is clear enough to resonate with the Toronto Fringe audience. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a farce that pokes fun at men for not trusting their wives, for flirting with married women, for trying to force their will on their daughters tyrannically, and gives the women in the play (who would have been originally played by men) the agency to take revenge. Wallis and Rainville work SO HARD here to make the men look moronic, when Shakespeare has already done a commendable job of it. If you don’t trust that Shakespeare can speak, on his own merit, to a contemporary audience, why would you create a theatre company that performs Shakespeare?
What is most frustrating is that there is perfect proof in this production that in the hands of the right person Shakespeare’s words are crystal clear. For some reason Rainville and Willis allow Lynne Griffin to play Mistress Quickly with depth, intensity and the basic emotional range one would expect from any character in a play that has subsisted for over four hundred years. I don’t know whether this was part of the concept, that the character who is the smartest and arguably the most progressive, gets to be played as though she is a human being or if Griffin is just getting away with good acting here on a fluke? I don’t know.
I wish the concept here was clearer or, if there isn’t one, perhaps this company should change their name to Shakespeare SCREAM’d.
TWISI FRINGE RATING:
Shakespeare BASH’d’s The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham Street) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:
July 10 at 07:00 PM buy tickets
July 11 at 07:00 PM buy tickets
July 12 at 05:00 PM buy tickets