***** (5 stars)
Just when you thought a performance couldn’t get any better, it does! HALLELUJAH!! A live performance IN A REAL THEATRE, with a REAL AUDIENCE – admittedly, so well-spaced out that one could have felt quite lonely – but all relishing the experience of being back where we belong…
Having already had the joy of watching Scottish Opera’s production in Glasgow [see my review of 18 July], I was really looking forward to the opportunity to revisit their joyful, ebullient performance, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Being familiar with the plot left me free to observe individual performances and the many subtle nuances of character and expression David McVicar drew from his cast. Roland Wood was once again outstanding as Sir John Falstaff, his gargantuan paunch concealing his enormous heart [and his enormous codpiece doing its best to stun all beholders into awed silence]. His voice was as massive as his body, ringing out his joy in life, his massive self-esteem, his laughter in the face of adversity and, at the end, his ability to laugh at himself, victim of the plotting of the witty wives of Windsor.
It was hard to look at anyone else when he was on stage, but the rest of the cast played their parts superbly. I was a little concerned for Elizabeth Llewellyn [Alice Ford], who sounded a bit out of sorts at the start of the show, but she blossomed as the evening wore on. Sioned Gwen Davies’ Meg Page and Louise Winter’s Mistress Quickly were entertaining plotters, but Gemma Summerfield’s Nannetta outshone the other three women – her floating, gleaming pianissimi were truly magnificent, and her ballad as Queen of the Fairies was an ethereal delight.
Aled Hall was a wonderfully self-satisfied Dr Caius, with a neat leg which he delighted in showing off at every opportunity including his curtain call. Jamie MacDougall’s Scottish Bardolph and Alistair Miles’ lugubrious Pistol made the most of their many opportunities to create havoc, and Elgan Llŷr Thomas’ Fenton was both ardent and playful – here is a tenor to watch out for! Phillip Rhodes’ Ford/ Mr Brook was a bit of a mystery to me – he is the least sympathetic character on stage, and fully deserves to be made a fool of – I found neither his jealousy nor his contrition totally credible [but then, Count Almaviva does it all so much better in Le Nozze di Figaro…]. I think I’d like to see him in something else before I can make my mind up about him.
The actors – Lauren Ellis-Steele, Eddie Chamberlin, Caleb Hughes, Josh Kiernan, Allan Othieno and Sally Swanson – and the children – Oscar Clive, Ava-Simran Dhillon-Dileri, Euan Kirwan and Maya Lei – played their parts superbly, and added greatly to the liveliness of the whole production. David McVicar’s designs of set – so simple and so versatile – and costumes were superb [oh those fabulous frocks, and Falstaff’s ‘going courting’ suit!] From what nightmares did McVicar find all those extraordinary characters in the Herne’s Oak scene? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they all appeared in their own tv series – so many stories you could weave around them [I was particularly fascinated by the weird bird – Rod Hull’s Emu meets Edward Scissorhands??]
I’m so glad that my first venture back into a theatre after the weariness of lockdown was to see such a fabulous production. The audience obviously enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and at the final curtain did their best to raise the roof despite their relatively small numbers. Special thanks and praise must go to Stuart Stratford and the Scottish Opera Orchestra who were working behind the scenes rather than in the pit, and who were allowed to emerge from backstage [in their masks] to receive our applause at the end of the show. As ever, they played superbly, and made a difficult task seem effortless.
In true Edinburgh-in-August fashion we exited the theatre into darkness and rain, but that couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm after one of the best possible ways of raising our spirits after the woes of the last eighteen months. There’s still time to get a ticket: give yourself a treat, and join with Falstaff at the end of the opera – life is a burst of laughter, laugh at your sorrows, be happy hereafter…
Edinburgh International Festival Presents Scottish Opera – Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff, Festival Theatre 8 August 2021 – then 10, 12, 14 for tickets go to: https://www.eif.co.uk/events/falstaff