|Sullivan > Major Works > The Merry Wives of Windsor > Haymarket Theatre
The interesting series of Wednesday matinées organized by Mr. Tree brought forth yesterday a revival of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which has not had a run in London since 1874, when Phelps appeared as Falstaff at the Gaiety.
In the present instance Falstaff is played by Mr. Tree, who, for an actor of spare physique, overcomes his natural disadvantages in a wonderful degree. The Falstaff of The Merry Wives is a debased personage, who has fallen from the high estate he occupies in Henry IV. In fact, from being a prince of humorists he becomes the butt and the jest of his acquaintances, while his followers, Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph are merely the shadows of their former selves. But if the “greasy knight” loses in wit and wisdom in the process of passing from the one play to the other, his physical bulk remains unaffected, and no compromise upon this score can be made. When the present revival was announced, it seemed, therefore to be an act of temerity on Mr. Tree’s part to attempt the embodiment of the character, seeing that the lean actor who plays Falstaff has not only the question of stoutness to consider, but the far more difficult task of simulating the gait, and above all the voice, of a portly consumer of sack. Mr. Tree’s manner and appearance, we have no hesitation in saying, are a triumph of the art of making-up. He is the living presentment of the fat knight, and looks, walks, and talks as though born to a heritage of corpulency.
Usually styled a comedy, The Merry Wives is in reality what is known to the modern stage as a farce. It consists of a few more or less commonplace tricks played upon Falstaff by Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page, and much of its humour is that of the practical joke; its superb delineation of Elizabethan life exists mostly in the imagination of the commentators. Phelps played the piece at the Gaiety as a Christmas entertainment with incidental music by Sir Arthur Sullivan; and in that capacity it is now revived, the revels in Windsor Forest, where Falstaff is fooled to the top of his bent, yielding, in conjunction with Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music, a pantomimic scene of rare beauty and interest.
If the performance may be called a Christmas entertainment, it is certainly one of a high order. Mr. Tree’s acting as Falstaff furnishes an agreeable proof of his versatility; it is full of rotund geniality and humorous suggestion and, while exhibiting the fat knight in a ridiculous light, conveys the idea that he is on the whole a most lovable knave. Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page are played with all requisite spirit by Miss Rose Leclercq and Miss Alice Lingard. Mr. Macklin and Mr. Harrison are seen to advantage as the contrasted husbands; Mrs. Tree is in truth a “sweet Anne Page”; the humours of “mine host” of “The Garter” lose nothing in the hands of Mr. Lionel Brough; and as Dr. Caius, Master Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans, Mr. Kemble, Mr. Brookfield, and Mr. Righton go to make up an excellent cast.
Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music lends an infinite charm to the fairy dances, and the revival is entitled to rank as one of the most picturesque of its kind.
N.B. The song is allotted to Anne Page in the play.
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