Barbican Centre, London – until 5 January 2019
The Barbican Centre concludes its RSC’s autumn/winter season with a playful production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, a lesser-known but undoubtedly hilarious comedy featuring the lecherous and legendary John Falstaff. After the tragedies of Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet earlier in the season, this play is a welcome respite from the seriousness of the times, choosing fun and farce over politics.
Returning to the RSC and the Barbican after his triumph in Titus Andronicus last year is David Troughton as the drunken and self-proclaimed womaniser, Falstaff, his caricaturesque performance mirroring the cartoony nature of the plot, characters, script and direction. So it goes, Falstaff is short on cash but living it large in Windsor and has no intentions of slowing down. The comedy of errors (not that one) begins as he devises a plan to woo two wives who seem to have control over their husband’s purses: Mistress Ford (Beth Cordingly) and Mistress Page (Rebecca Lacey). When his identical love letters are discovered by the wives and his sacked servants spill the beans to their husbands, a tidal wave of wonderful and witty nonsense transpires as the wives trick Falstaff into hiding in bins and dresses to escape discovery.
Alongside this mayhem, a Frenchman, Welshman and Englishman all vie for the attention of the lovely Anne Page (Karen Fishwick). Jonathan Cullen is the Gallic Dr Caius, ever hilarious as he embraces the stereotype, complete with teeny moustache. Sir Hugh Evans (Welsh) is played by David Acton who coaxes his character’s plentiful countrymen in the audience to sing ‘Bread of Heaven’, while from England comes Fenton, played with bumbling glee by Luke Newberry who Anne happens to adore, warts (oh giant wart) and all. This threesome, with support from Tom Padley’s bucktoothed Slender and Tim Samuels’ closeted Shallow, add merriment to the mayhem as this ensemble juxtapose the Only Way is Essex with Shakespeare… in a good way.
Lez Brotherston’s costumes are just terrific, perfectly mismatched in keeping with the juxtaposition. With neck ruffles meeting tailored suits, Tudor breeches meeting hairy chests, bodices meeting chainlink leggings and bosoms meeting… bosoms. Some things never go out of fashion.
This isn’t high brow, and certainly not politically correct, but neither was Shakespeare! Go, enjoy and revel in the eccentric ridiculousness of it all.
Runs until 5th January 2019Reviewed by Heather DeaconPhoto by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC