A picturesque garden, outdoor theatre, and belly full of laughs are all set to form part of Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s upcoming production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. This Shakespearean comedy, first published in 1602, explores the life of the middle class in the Elizabethan era. Theatre Haus spoke with actress Elle Sejean-Allen, taking on the lead role of Mistress Ford in this rendition.
Speaking of the piece, Sejean-Allen remarked, “The play itself has become so dear to me over the last few months. I love the dynamic between the women, such a powerhouse team… We have a diverse company and our interpretation is beautifully representative of the world around us. ”
The powerhouse team is perfectly fitting for this plot, with themes of sisterhood and strong female characters that will resonate with the modern audience member, Sejean-Allen notes that the lead character “Mistress Ford is a lot of fun to play, super smart and in control, and very funny. Definitely, the sisterhood of the titular wives has been the highlight…”
Although the piece is some four centuries old, from a faraway land, it and many other Shakespearean works continue to hold valuable truths and captivate viewers. They continue to be studied in English classes around the world, explored with depth in universities, inspire modern films and television shows, and are adapted for stage time and time again.
“At their core, all of Shakespeare’s works encapsulate what it means to be a human being.” reflects Sejean-Allen, “This work will always be relevant and treasured.”
And what better or more fitting place to house the show than the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, Victoria. Now over 160 years old, the gardens are home to a range of local indigenous plants, an ornamental pond and fountain, and glasshouses.
“The gardens are a perfect setting for a Shakespeare comedy. We are so lucky to have access to the gardens and perform on this land, it enlivens everything. The elements took a little bit of getting used to, but it all adds to the authenticity of the moment.”
These gardens are also home to an eco-centre, something the Melbourne Shakespeare Company is extremely passionate about. The environment and eco-friendly arts are embedded in their ethos and this makes for an even more meaningful connection to the gardens.
For this production, “there is a huge emphasis on upcycling and making use of materials on hand… just in terms of the outdoor nature of the work, it’s about making the most of the natural elements that are available to us.”
But it isn’t all serious global issues, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is, at its core, a comedy. This hilarious musical adaptation, directed by Emma Austin and Kate Weston, promises boundless energy, laughs and beautiful live music.
“Truly every single character in the show is fabulous, and we are so lucky to have such a brilliant company of performers. There’s comedy and likeability and truth written into every character.”
Those attending the event are invited to bring along a picnic to enjoy. If you want to know what the lead character might pack, Sejean-Allen suggests “most definitely a grazing board for Mistress Ford, and maybe some sparkling apple juice (or a Prosecco!)”
‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ will be presented at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens from 4-24 December 2022. Tickets can be purchased via the Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s website.
This production is supported by the City of Port Phillip Cultural Development Fund.