Reviewed by Donald Madgwick for The Croydon Advertiser
The garden of The Woodman pub at Woodmansterne provides a great natural open air setting, and this year Theatre Workshop Coulsdon have excelled themselves in a peach of a production by Richard Lloyd of Shakespeare’s only English comedy (Forget the Forest of Arden in As You Like It: that’s Ardennes, stupid).
The hand of the director can be detected in many a shrewd detail, making it easier to take a bit of the rough, such as Shallow’s marathon handshakes, with a large helping of the smooth.
The play, almost a “humours” comedy in the Jonsonian sense, produces a whole series of inspired portrayals, and oddly enough it is Falstaff himself, in the person of Mark Taylor, who in a measure disappoints.
No one need doubt his credentials as an actor, but any portrayal of the fat knight should begin from the inner core of that immense belly.
The lightly padded Mr Taylor neither looks nor acts fat, nor is he anywhere near decrepit enough for the old lecher he has become.
The quality of diction and delivery is exemplary, beginning with Richard Lloyd, in every way an outstanding Ford, the emblem of jealous husbandhood, wonderfully funny in disguise as Brook, and admirably contrasted with Mike Brown’s bluffly countrified Page.
Tanya Allison and Tina Poole are a great double act as Mistresses Page and Ford, laying the perfect traps for Falstaff’s tottering testosterone.
Simeon Dawes, too, is on tip top form as the Welsh parson Hugh Evans, and Neil Grew’s choleric French Doctor Caius made even me, a notoriously silent laugher, hoot out loud, by Gar!
Steve North’s Fenton needs to be bolder and more romantic, for after all he and Amy Coates, as Anne Page, have to carry the only scenes of true love this cynical comedy has to offer.
Chris Argles is a picture of pernickety senescence as Justice Shallow, while Luke Argles as his foolish nephew Slender, surely a first cousin to Sir Andrew Aguecheek, adopts a voice like Mrs Jean-Paul Sartre of blessed Monty Python memory.
Rosie Martin’s Mistress Quickly is a wonder to behold, driving little Matthew Proctor, a sly page boy, to steal away on all fours to escape her garrulity: another fine touch of direction.
Valuable contributions also from Tim Young’s sly Host and Bruce Montgomery’s sublimely dim Peter Simple; Paul M Ford, Jonathan Wales and Hugh Proctor as Falstaff’s followers; and Richard Hull’s long-suffering servant to Dr Caius.
A great evening.
Paul M Ford
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