Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare’s Globe

Pearce Quigley as Falstaff and Bryony Hannah as Mistress Ford in The Marry Wives of Windsor at Shake

Pearce Quigley as Falstaff and Bryony Hannah as Mistress Ford in The Marry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeares Globe, running until 12 October 2019 (photo: Helen Murray) - Credit: Archant

Sarah Sturt reviews the jazz-age twist of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe

A standing ovation greeted the cast of The Merry Wives of Windsor for their opening night performance of the only comedy that Shakespeare set in his native land.

Double-meanings, disguises and dirty laundry abound as Sir John Falstaff sets about improving his woeful financial situation by wooing both Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. The corpulent, hell-raising knight from the Henry IV plays pens and delivers two identical love letters suggesting the ladies contravene their marriage and cheat on their husbands. But the 'Merry Wives' quickly cotton on to his tricks and decide to have a bit of fun of their own at Falstaff's expense…

While director Elle While gives The Merry Wives of Windsor a 1930's slant, from the gorgeous fashion to the live jazz band and dance, it's a production that feels bang up to date in its celebration of women and the bonds - and shared humour - of female friendship. With a witty mix of verbal and physical humour, delivered at a breakneck pace - not to mention an outrageous number of ad libs - it rejoices in a tradition that extends from pantomime and vaudeville right up to today's TV comedy sitcoms.

At the heart of this nimble production is Pearce Quigley's stunning Falstaff, a very different take on the typical drunken rabble rouser we're used to seeing. Portrayed here as a sarcastic, northern, melancholy outsider, he engages the audience (casually emptying a shoe full of Thames water over a group of giggling teenage groundlings, for example) without overtly playing to the crowd. And in the manner of Shakespeare's most memorable comic creations, he invites our hilarity as well as our pity.

Richard Katz's camp, Franglais-spouting French physician is a far more over-the-top performance but still a hugely watchable and hilarious one, while the two Meet the Midwife actors, Sarah Finigan (Mistress Page) and Bryony Hannah (Mistress Ford) delight as the best mates - the latter in particular during the frisky whip-cracking of a lusty Falstaff drawing one of the night's biggest audience reactions.

Undoubtedly one of Shakespeare's silliest of comedies, it also feels very 2019, with the women ending up on top and the men being taught a thing or two about how to behave. Watching with one of my 'besties', we laughed out loud at the bawdy humour but also relished the message of female empowerment - not least in the guise of Boadicea Ricketts' feisty, very 21st-century Anne Page who gets her man - her way.

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A genuinely fun, at times surprising, night and a reminder that the less well-known of Shakespeare's plays can, in the right hands, be as entertaining as your tried and trusted Dreams and Twelfth Nights.

Do go and watch - just mind that cheeky Falstaff if you're a front row groundling …

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*Kent Life was offered free tickets in return for a review

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