Review: Falstaff @ The Grange Festival

words by Stuart Martin

Elin Pritchard (Alice), Angela Simkin (Meg Page), Rhian Lois (Nannetta) and Susan Bickley (Mistress Quickly) Photo credit: Clive Barda

Verdi’s final opera, based primarily on the Shakespeare play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, is a romping comedy and this new production at The Grange Festival lives up to that in spades. The Grange Festival is in Hampshire (about half an hour from Basingstoke) and located on stunning grounds. This lovely little opera house with twinkling star-like lights in some of the ceilings is beautiful with some very comfy chairs to sit in. 

The production is stunning and works beautifully well, with a rotating house stage, a boat that sails in and out, a pub that keeps popping out and a rather wonderful cameo from Windsor’s most famous resident... I also thoroughly loved the tiny bits and pieces: Falstaff bringing flowers to woo someone whilst they are covered in reduced stickers; Nannetta reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography; the costumes are fantastic, especially Falstaff’s, I also really enjoyed that just in time for Pride month, Falstaff is wearing a headband in the Pride colours. 

Robert Hayward in his role debut is a phenomenal Falstaff, his voice is pitch perfect, full of strength with a real twinkle in his eye and great comic timing (including with a selfie stick a few times!). Elin Pritchard as Alice and Rhian Lois as Nannetta are also particular highlights with some absolutely amazing arias between them. Graham Clark as Dr Caius has a good voice; however he was far too loud and powerful in his diction. The Grange is not the Royal Opera House in terms of size and he definitely needs to adapt to his surroundings as he was quite off-putting.

'Falstaff is a sheer delight and makes you leave with a smile on your face. This is opera at its best.'

I feel that The Grange could be a bit more welcoming, when my companion and I were waiting for the bus that takes people to and from the station from The Grange, the driver looked at us and asked if we had enjoyed it and if we were there because we had managed to get cheap seats. I think there is definitely a ‘typical’ person to attend and everyone else is sort of regarded with a bit of suspicion. It’s this sort of action that needs to go as opera is for everyone, even black tie events like this, there needs to be a more welcoming sense of belonging and openness. 

This production of Falstaff is fantastic with an absolutely 5-star cast and a brilliant orchestra in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The sets and costumes are second to none and I would gladly come back and see this any time, it’s a sheer delight and makes you leave with a smile on your face. This is opera at its best. 

Find out more about The Grange Festival here

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