Open air theatre in St Albans verdict: The Bard has never been so welcome
- Credit: Archant
The Open Air Theatre Festival by Maltings Theatre in St Albans offers a much-needed respite, a sense of atmosphere and a love for the bard’s silliness, Charlotte McLaughlin reports.
Located a short walk from Verulamium Park, the Roman Theatre is host to several of William Shakespeare’s plays, including the two I took in – Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor – with both revelling in the Bard’s talent for comedy.
The first of which – Henry V – is a play within a play, a Shakespeare talent, where Mara Allen is both the young Hal – who has recently been proclaimed King of England after the death of her father Henry IV – and a school pupil straining not to get over excited by the situation.
But Mara does really capture the newly acquired seriousness of Hal – much like Timothée Chalamet did in Netflix’s The King – who has shaken off the drinking, leching, and jesting with John Falstaff to lead England to victory over France on the fields of Agincourt.
Much of the comedy is left to her co-stars, one of whom delivers a communication from the French, and happens to be an “asthmatic” messenger. Another bemused character begs the question – “why did we give her the job Ms?”, directed at the theatre teacher – breaking the fourth wall.
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And if perchance the thought of a battle – re-enacted with cricket bats and people riding mops as horses – does not sound like fun, the whole play is peppered with great music like Zac Brown Band and Chris Cornell’s ‘Heavy Is The Head’.
COVID-19 is also not forgotten throughout the play with regular reminders by the ‘teachers’ to socially distance and not kiss.
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Another play being performed open air, The Merry Wives of Windsor, takes the humour in a more bawdy direction with Falstaff – played by Lachlan McCall – as everyone’s drunk uncle still trying to pull off the ‘I was once in a band’ look, and sporting a Meatloaf impression.
It is really “Shakespeare meets Spinal Tap”, as Maltings Theatre describes it, with a live 80s soundtrack performed by the Spirit of Wantonness and tight trousers and big hair.
The performance also has little nods to the area with Falstaff ending his opening song with a “I love you Welwyn Garden City” – when he forgets he’s in St Albans, getting chucked into Verulamium lake in a council bin and finally being forced to dress-up as the fat woman of Hemel.
I won’t spoil anymore of the Open Theatres Festival – so you will just have to check it out here ticketsource.co.uk/ovo.