A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

The Merry Widow


ERTÉ Costume for Mata Hari, 1913 Design for Le Minaret – the first theatrical production by Paul Poiret, Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris, Private Collection (from anothermag.com)

I’ve been searching for the image which Danielle de Niese’s pose at the beginning of Act III reminded me of, but I can’t find it. The one above will have to do. It’s meant to be Mata Hari but Hanna Glawari would totally rock this look at a casual Pontevedrian-themed party.

Since scribbling a review of last Friday’s performance for SMH I’ve been going over the performance again in my head. In particular, how the work, the libretto, the translation, the direction and the production as a whole handles women and gender. There’s much to think about.

First up, a distanced prod at my gut reaction to some of what I cast as ‘lazy misogyny’ in the review. Am I being a humourless old fuddy-duddy in turning up my nose at a bit of harmless dick-waving, bottom-pinching and crotch-thrusting? Or, worse, am I completely missing the point? Is this some grand ironic gesture, designed to suck you in then put the joke on you?

I’m referring to this production’s Act III sting, where the unassailably beautiful, elegant and — most importantly — powerful (by virtue of her $$) Hanna Glawari joins the chorus of dancing girls. She jumps into the can-can line-up, not as a posh tart pretend, but as one of them. She kicks as high as her neighbours. She laughs as loud. She even presents her high class arse to the assembled crowd, much to their embarrassment. Is it a Bakhtinian moment of the carnivalesque, a mischevious tilt at the fusty traditions of a ruling class? Or is it, rather, a moment of solidarity with Lolo, Dodo, Jou-Jou, Clo-Clo and Frou-Frou, the grisettes who humiliate themselves nightly to bolster the egos of Maxim’s swaggering clientele?

I’d  like to think it’s the latter. I’d like to think that it’s a directorial decision to let Hanna humiliate Danilo in particular and the men in general for objectifying half the human race.

But where does that leave the rest of the show? Does Hanna’s behaviour render the previous two acts, so full of hammy innuendo and titivating bluster, as sneakily cutting irony? Does it mean the joke’s on us for laughing in the first place?

I don’t know. But, sadly, I think it’s another case of cashing in on cheap laughs, especially in the wake of yesterday’s accusations against musical star Craig McLachlan. Yes, the librettists writing ‘Women, women, women’ as a central number makes the masculine view of women a key theme of the show. But this production continues to indulge the leerier end of the spectrum, from Justin Fleming’s phnarr phnarr translation to the unnecessary Benny Hill sketch in act II.

I’m calling it. Not good enough. It’s 2018.  We’ve had enough of lazy misogyny and ‘ooh missus’ cracks. And, more to the point, the joke’s on you, because we’re not laughing any more.


  1. Especially weird given that it is not supposed to be Hannah who joins the Grisettes but rather the other soprano, the married Valencienne, trying to entice her lover. It’s already a given that she’s a “fallen” woman, given that she is having an adulterous affair.

    I honestly admire you for trying to find any plot without the misogyny of its period! As stage directors should we not be trying to recreate the period flavour designed by the composer, while agreeing that it is set in other times and not how a modern piece would be set?

    • I agree that The Merry Widow is a period piece, which reflects the moral compass of the time. However, presenting a new production, I think it enhances and complicates and deepens a work if you also address the way the period’s attitudes sit within our own times. There’s no hope of resolving them, of course, but it is an interesting challenge to try.

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