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Rob Conkie
La Trobe University
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LOL: The Merry Wives of Windsor

This project explores emotions on and off stage in a production of Shakespeare’s riotous and proto-feminist farce, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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Image: Mistress Ford (Carole Patullo) and Mistress Page (Helen Hopkins) compare identical seduction notes. Photograph by Melissa Viola

The production played in outdoor (the New Fortune Theatre, The University of Western Australia) and indoor (fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne) theatre spaces, generating quite different actor-spectator relationships and their attendant affects. The play itself explores emotional states such as lust, jealousy, rage, joy, contrition, humiliation and re/conciliation. Off stage, the production created affective states and spaces, such as touring company bonding and backstage rituals, jokes and blessing.

The practice-as-research production first played as part of a symposium on the play and was thus contextualised by (and fed back into) plenary lectures (and subsequent discussions) on ceremony as social glue in the world of the play (Alison Findlay, Lancaster University), visual pleasure in the production history of the play (Liz Schafer, Royal Holloway, University of London), laughter in the play, especially regarding the first quarto (Helen Ostovich, McMaster University), dramaturgical adventures (Philippa Kelly, California Shakespeare Theater), and afterlives of the play on film and television (Bob White, The University of Western Australia).

Image: Falstaff’s (Tom Considine) final humiliation. Photograph by Melissa Viola

Reviews

'Here’s a production to rescue The Merry Wives of Windsor from the remainder pile of Shakespearean history… It’s a tribute to director Rob Conkie, his cast and design team that this production of Merry Wives should have audiences sitting bolt upright with eyes wide, fearful of missing some stage business… The gravitational centre of the production, of course, is Tom Considine’s Falstaff. Looking more like Keith Michell than ever, Considine is a barrelling and bright-eyed force of nature. He plays the deluded knight as a rutting stag with a baggie of blue pills in his shirt pocket. He’s gruff, explosive and thrilling to watch. His acting is knife-edged. Utterly alive. And so is the production.'

 - Chris Boyd, The Australian, 20 April 2016

'But with its engaging and comedic actors, minimalistic staging and ease in performing to the audience on three sides of the stage, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Globe... Mistress Ford and Mistress Page in particular are energetic, vibrant and hilariously cunning…While the production is proudly comical it also embraces the play’s emotional moments, with Ford’s tender apology to his wife making me long for similar reconciliation in The Winter’s Tale, Othello or even A Midsummer Night’s Dream.'

 - Holi Walsh, shakespeareoz.com

Related Publications

I am working on two written outcomes related to the production:

‘Backstage Affects’: this is a consideration of the affective environment of the backstage area during a run of the production. The essay will consider issues such as rituals, jokes, blessings attachments to scripts, sweets and collaborative labour (this essay will be presented at ANZSA 2016).

‘Performance Research Events’: this essay will put the symposium event at UWA in the context of other recent performance research events at McMaster University in Canada (June 2015) and at the University of Auckland and the Pop-up Globe in NZ (February 2016). It will address the meeting of different kinds of scholarship and the ways in which they might be reciprocally advantageous and the specific value of performance as research scholarship for early modern studies (this essay is for Bob White).