Actor Jos Vantyler discusses Shakespeare and his role in THE MERRY WIVES
Jos Vantyler certainly knows his Shakespeare. In the past 10 years, the award-winning actor has performed in a number of Shakespeare plays including ROMEO AND JULIET (2006), LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST (2012) and KING LEAR (2013), both here in the UK as well as in America.
This month, Vantyler returns to the stage in Northern Broadsides production of THE MERRY WIVES. Published in 1602, THE MERRY WIVES (also known as THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR) tells the story of Sir John Falstaff, a skint, overweight knight who decides to woo the wives of two of leading merchants in order to get money out of them. The light, funny and wickedly entertaining play is third time Northern Broadsides has staged the production, which coincides with Shakespeare’s 400th birthday year.
Originally set in the early 15th century, Northern Broadsides production of THE MERRY WIVES takes place in the 1920s and centres around a middle-class country club in which the main characters Falstaff, Page and Ford are members.
“The play is almost 400 years old so you’ve got to bring it to a point where people still find it amusing” explains Vantyler. “The 1920s was a massive era for fads like exercise, sports and the Charleston and that kind of stuff lends itself to great humour, as well as being entertaining to watch and look at.”
Vantyler plays Master Abraham Slender, nephew of Justice Shallow and suitor to Mistress Anne Page. Slender is a rich yet foolish man and is responsible for much of the humour of the piece, as well as some of the worst pick-up lines ever heard.
“It’s a great part and very funny” comments Vantyler. “It’s very physical and really energetic and a lot of the comedy is in the reaction. When you’ve also got the challenge of the language, which some of the audience aren’t always going to understand, a lot of the humour has to be in the reaction to what is happening on stage. If someone is pushed into a huge washing basket, it’s your reaction as much as the push that makes it funny.”
This is the fourth time Vantyler has worked with Northern Broadsides’ Artistic Director Barrie Rutter, who is directing the production as well as playing Sir John Falstaff. The duo first worked together in 2010 in Northern Broadsides’ production of Harold Brighouse’s THE GAME in which Vantyler played Rutter’s son, Leo Whitworth. The pair reunited in 2012 for LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST and also appeared together in Sir Jonathan Miller’s 2013 production of KING LEAR at The Old Vic in London.
“MERRY WIVES is a big one to take on and Barry [Rutter] takes it on with big gusto” comments Vantyler.
“We have 16 actors on stage, all playing good parts and who all have their own moments. Northern Broadsides is one of the those companies that prides themselves on putting 16 actors on stage, not just eight actors playing two parts each. It’s an adventure play and is not a heavily done piece but I think he [Rutter] really enjoys doing it otherwise he wouldn’t be doing it a third time”.
2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare and MERRY WIVES will be playing a special show on 23 April at Cheltenham to mark the date of Shakespeare’s birthday and death.
“His [Shakespeare] stories are timeless and people resonate with them” comments Vantyler.
“They are also the foundation for a lot of modern stuff. We watch plays now that have similar construction. Shakespeare’s plays were some of the first, traceable, in-print plays so lots of modern playwrights, maybe with or without knowing, were influenced by him.”
Vantyler admits that while he is a fan of Shakespeare, the language can be difficult to tackle at times.
“All the time I’m finding things and I think “ah, that’s what that bit means”. That’s what makes it exciting; it’s like performing a new play every time” admits Vantyler.
“The trick performing any of Shakespeare’s play is that we [the actors] have got to know what we’re saying. You can’t chance it. We’ve got to know so the audience can access it and understand it.”
“Some nights you get a big laugh and you think “wow, I didn’t see that one coming” because the audience have understood it or they’ve seen it in a different way to how you saw it. It’s great.”
Yet, despite its difficulties, Vantyler is keen to expand his Shakespeare repertoire.
“I’d love to do a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve always enjoyed watching it and every version I’ve seen of it has been different” admits Vantyler.
“The great thing about Shakespeare is that all of his plays are completely different. You’ve got plays like a MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST and TITUS ANDRONICUS which is a blood filled gore-fest and then you’ve got RICHARD III. I think of all the plays, RICHARD III is one of my favourites”.
“Everyone’s interpretation is also different so you never see the same play twice. People update it, they play with it and they pull it apart. Some plays are set hundreds of years ago, some in the 50s and some in the Victorian era. It’s really exciting because you see a different version every time”.
Jos Vantyler stars in THE MERRY WIVES which plays at The Lowry from Tue 15 March to Sat 19 March.