Fifties Falstaff

fonzA new production of Shakespeare’s ‘Falstaff’ is set in the "pre-’Mad Men’" era, reports Pia Catton in The Wall Street Journal (12/6/13). "We’ve moved it from the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth to the reign of the second Queen Elizabeth," says director Robert Carsen. "Social Comedy works best when we recognize ourselves in it." So, in this version, "the youthful Nannetta wears pedal pushers, the kitchen in a key scene is filled with mid-century American appliances and the title character’s first appearances is in a hotel room surrounded by room-service carts."

In addition to making the performance more "relatable," Robert suggests it’s also truer to Shakespeare’s intent. "In Shakespeare’s time, the actors were more or less in modern dress." The storyline certainly qualifies as timeless, telling "the story of Sir John Falstaff, a boozy bon vivant who tries to seduce two married women who might help reduce his debts." Its structure is perhaps also inherently contemporary, in that it has singers singing to each other, rather than to the audience, creating a kind of conversation.

The characters also reflect an everlasting contrast. "You’ve got Falstaff, full of poetry and imagination," Robert says. "Then you’ve got Ford, who is just interested in money." Robert "sought to emphasize a post-World War II social shift that happened in England, when the old-world aristocracy, which employed a large portion of the workforce as domestic help, began its transformation into a new middle class." The 1950s-era kitchen similarly captures the moment. "When England started to get richer again, there was delight in all these appliances coming from America," Robert says.

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