The Merry Wives of Windsor – Fiona Laird for RSC

Shakespeare twice in one week! And both of them laugh-out-loud funny, leaving me with an aching face.

We haven’t seen Merry Wives for ages – December 2012 in fact – and whilst I usually enjoy it I didn’t expect this version to be as funny as it was.  Think of it as a 17th century pantomime with great word-play, plenty of slapstick and lots of fun being had by the actors.

I certainly never expected audience participation singing Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer!

The stand out performances were, for me, Rebecca Lacey and Beth Cordingley as the titular Merry Wives, David Troughton, who was a brilliant Falstaff and Katy Brittain as the Hostess of the Garter.  Their exaggerated, stereotype characters were much more believable than the 2-dimensional figures they can sometimes be.

There were nice subtle touches too; Charlotte Josephine’s transformation from rough, loutish Bardolph to a polished young woman with a career in particular.

The staging was a bit faffy in some ways with the skeleton outlines of Dr Caius’ house and The Garter dominating the stage, rotating periodically and bit sliding out.  There also seemed to be  a lot of furniture moving.  I think some of it was unnecessary and the idea of moving from place to place could have been suggested in other ways.

That said, there were some really nice touches like the Visit Britain sign in the window of The Garter and the parking sign outside Dr Caius’ house.

The costumes were excellent; a mix of modern and Elizabethan dress.  The “types” were easily identifiable by their clothes.  David Troughton in his tennis whites and then striped blazer were particularly funny, especially once the whites had been through the wheely bin.

Some of the visual humour and gags based on what’s happening in the world were very funny but, I think, don’t translate to the written page.

I also really liked the way this version of the play ends.  Sometimes the ending feels spiteful and is an uncomfortable end to a comedy.  In this version Falstaff gets his comeuppance but it is done with sympathy and not spite, leaving everyone in a jolly mood to go home.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and I’d recommend going to see it.

Click here to find out more about RSC and to book tickets

Click here to find out more about the plot of the play

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