The Merry Wives of Windsor
THERE is nothing subtle about this OTT production.
Director Fiona Laird has taken the Bard’s most farcical offering on a short journey round the M25 from Berkshire to Essex. But it could be a different planet, let alone world. High heels and even higher hair abound, and The Fat Lady of Brentford is now the Fat Lady of Brentwood.
It is a place inhabited by pink plastic flamingos, a golf cart with a mind of its own, and a wheelie bin instead of a washing basket. Even the costumes are a bizarre mix of the Elizabethan and the modern – where a ruff and pinstripe suit combine.
If rumour is to believed Queen Elizabeth demanded Mr Shakespeare pen another play featuring the larger than life Falstaff after being devastated at his Henry V no show.
So the Bard got to work on pleasing his monarch, and fast forward four centuries, and said romp remains a crowd-pleaser – and Laird’s big and brash offering is certainly that.
It’s colourful, inventive, and funny, and the cast – with David Troughton as a jolly good fat knight – do not put a foot wrong. There are some great comic performances from the likes of the wives, Rebecca Lacey (Mistress Page) and Beth Cordingly (Mistress Ford), Tim Samuels (Shallow), Tom Padley (Slender), and Jonathan Cullen (Dr Caius).
It all begins very cleverly with a Monty Pythonesque Liz 1 cartoon explaining her love for the character of Falstaff, and Shakespeare getting to work on the play, before the cast are introduced film credit style.
For all the fun and frivolity it does however stray too far into panto territory, with David Acton’s Welsh parson Sir Hugh Evans leading the audience in a rendition of Bread of Heaven, and Ishia Bennison’s Mistress Quickly engendering an ‘aaaahhhh’ of sympathy for Luke Newberry’s hapless Fenton. There is also a Frenchman making a Brexit joke and a couple of Polish workmen.
Yes, girl power wins out, but any real comment on the battle of the sexes is buried under the weight of this production’s sensory overload.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is at the RST until September 22.
Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.