GSMD Falstaff

Falstaff [Sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Sir John Falstaff – David Stout
Dr Caius – Gediminas Varna
Bardolfo – Gareth Huw John
Pistola – Tom Oldham
Mrs Alice Ford – Lenia Safiropoulou
Nannetta – Celeste Lazarenko
Mrs Meg Page – Helen Evora
Mrs Quickly – Geneviève King
Fenton – Oliver Kuusik
Ford – Loïc Guguen
Barman – Ritz de Ridder

Chorus and Orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Paolo Olmi

Olivia Fuchs – Director
Bob Bailey – Designer
Bruno Poet – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 16 March, 2006
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

The curtain rose to a surprising set that turned out to be particularly apt: Olivia Fuchs’s stage did not depict a Shakespearean or 19th-century scenario, but a 1950s’ Butlin’s holiday camp. The choice of colours was probably inspired by a bag of jelly beans, and the costumes could equally well have been designed after a Tintin cartoon or an early Aldomovar film, while Mrs Quickly bore a striking resemblance to Olive Oyl. Some attention was drawn to the three-feet-high letters on the roof of a changing room area that took two-thirds of the stage. As an accompanying motto, the words ‘Live life to the full’ (a constant element on the stage) changed their meaning along with the development of the action. As long as Falstaff was the rogue character, the sentence represented his debauched philosophy – giving a slightly bigoted moral statement. In later scenes it appeared more and more as a commonplace, only to be turned into serious advice at the point when Sir John was forgiven and turned into a portly version of an Everyman. Clever indeed.

From beginning to end this was a witty, good-humoured production with plenty of detail and an enormously motivated and enthusiastic cast. With a title role like the one of the self-obsessed gigolo Sir John well beyond his prime, the main question was whether a performer in an all-student cast would be able to convincingly transport this role. The answer regarding David Stout’s performance is a definite ‘yes’. Not only did his body language and acting betray a remarkable sense of observation, especially once his belly was adjusted after the first scene, but his voluminous bass-baritone and flawless technique made him the star of the evening.

The other outstanding performance was Geneviève King’s Mrs Quickly. Despite being a fairly one-dimensional character in the libretto, the amount of life King found in the role was truly impressive. Whether hysterically shocked, in a mock-romantic pose, or openly accusing Falstaff, the range between being a caricature and a serious personality was much broader than that demonstrated by any other cast member. Like Stout, the quality of the acting was supported by a remarkable voice, in this case an alto that effortlessly switched from the highest to the lowest regions of the register, sometimes within the same bar.

Which is not to say that there was any real point of criticism regarding the other performers, although slight rhythmic inaccuracies occurred in the more hectic ensemble scenes of the first and second acts, most noticeably in the first scene’s composed tittle-tattle (which was technically enormously challenging, of course) and in the wild chase after Falstaff in the second act. The choir’s opening of the nocturnal last scene of Act Three was more than compensation – truly one of the moments where the performance developed a genuine sense of magic.

The orchestra provided a clear, transparent setting that benefited from the small size of the Theatre, with Paolo Olmi mostly choosing moderate tempos. The woodwinds in particular added much.

As a whole this was a remarkable first night of a highly entertaining and recommendable production. Not a few moments brought up thoughts of all the great names and careers that had their beginnings at the Guildhall School. The present production may well include more.

  • Further performances on 18, 20 & 22 March at 7 o’clock
  • Tickets available from Barbican Box Office 0845 120 7500
  • GSMD
  • Barbican

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