Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)


“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go.

Not even the presence of my much-beloved Alexandra Gilbreath as one of the titular wives alongside Gwynne could salvage this, and the lack of detailed credits means I couldn’t pick out where the likes of Paul Chahidi and Simon Thomas fit into the equation which was a shame – I think Alistair McGowan was Ford but that’s about it. Simon Callow is as Simon Callow does, director Greg Doran letting him do his thing with little concession to subduing his over-riding persona.

The one bright spot comes with Dame Judi Dench’s Mistress Quickly – for someone who is not a natural singer, her voice is strangely affecting, its lived-in quality lends a real depth to her singing that beautifully complements her peerless acting. But it is small recompense indeed for a listening experience which is mostly a trial – “fie on sinful fantasy” indeed.

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