Stratford Upon Avon, then London
Merry Wives of Windsor, William Shakespeare
RSC, The RST
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval, to 5 January 2019 (first Stratford Upon Avon, then London)
Review: Rod Dungate, 21 August 2018
A feel really good romp
This production is full of wit, energy and good humour. Exactly the ingredients you need to add to make the play work.
Merry Wives is a bit of a creaky play; it’s really all in the plotting. Two rather clever Windsor wives (Mistresses Ford and Page) set out to make a fool of a lecherous old knight, Falstaff. Love interest is inserted via Page’s daughter, Anne Page. But the comedy itself lacks the heart and poetry of the great comedies like As You Like It, or, Twelfth Night. And this Falstaff has none of the depth of Falstaff in the Henrys – though he does share the breadth.
But the play is great fun, with a host of eccentric characters giving the exhilaration of a round-about spinning a little faster than is good for us. And there are some terrific set pieces.
Judicious up-dating keeps the humour vibrant. Windsor is transplanted to Essex, in more-or-less modern times; in a series of witty costume designs Lez Brotherston fuses Elizabethan and contemporary. In a glorious theatrical coup the hamper in which Falstaff is concealed becomes a wheelie bin.
Occasionally the production relies too much on funny acting and voices at the expense of keeping its feet on the ground. Not the case ever with David Troughton, who, however outrageous his scene, always manages to convey it with truth. In his inspired wooing outfit he is superb. Rebecca Lacey and Beth Cordingly (Mrs Page and Ford) are excellent, especially when together, perfectly sparking off each other. Isha Bennison as the put upon Mistress Quickly is also a comedic joy.
There’s little doubt which gender has the upper hand in this man’s world – which is might satisfying.
Fiona Laird, who directs, has, with designer, Lez Brotherston and the rest of the team, taken this Merry Wives by the scruff of its neck and set it before us in very good order.