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Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC

Sometimes overlooked in favour of Shakespeare’s headline comedies, The Merry Wives of Windsor is, in my opinion, an absolute triumph of comic writing and, thanks to the RSC’s latest adaptation, my new favourite.

This fast-paced suburban fantasy is a deliciously madcap story of middle-class mayhem revolving around John Falstaff’s ambitions to woo, not one, but two married women. But his duplicitous seduction plans fall apart when the women in question turn out to best friends.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC

And so, as their revenge plot unfolds, so Falstaff’s masterplan unravels when Mistress Page (Samantha Spiro) and Mistress Ford (Siubhan Harrison) contrive a cunning deception. This sets the scene for the rest of the play with hilarious consequences at the expense of the supersized suitor. With plots and sub-plots galore, the play adopts the feel of a modern-day farce. Despite this, it never feels difficult to navigate – not the most common of sentiments at the RSC.

Director Blanche McIntyre has succeeded superbly in translating the Elizabethan setting to a contemporary age, with a modern urban estate set against the backdrop of – rather fittingly – an England versus Germany football match and its fans.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC

But standing out among the contrast of the loutish behaviour and pomposity of middle-class England is the tour de force that is Sir John Falstaff, played exquisitely by John Hodgkinson. Whether crawling across the stage or diving head first into a laundry basket(!) Hodgkinson’s the ‘larger than life’ stage presence wins the day.

Some of the best one-liners however are gifted to Jason Thorpe as the hysterical French dentist Dr Caius and the loveable idiot Slender, played by Patrick Walshe McBride.

Clever modular set design and slick stagecraft once again make clever use of the RSC’s performance space and are befitting of the Bard’s work.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC

Photo by Manuel Harlan

This modern version of The Merry Wives of Windsor presents a case for being funnier and more entertaining than many – if not all – of Shakespeare’s other comedies. Certainly last night’s audience seemed to think so!

A stellar cast and crew combine to bring home what I would class as one of the biggest RSC accomplishments of recent years.

So you’d be a fool to miss it.

The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre until September 7th. Tickets are available to book here or by calling 01789 331111.