Review: The Merry Windsor at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
PUBLISHED: 16:36 15 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:25 20 February 2013
Jane Sullivan reviews The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Set in the present day, the aged Falstaff is low on cash, the wives are winding their husbands around their little fingers, the husbands are jealous, and the daughter wants to marry the man she loves rather than the man or men her parents want her to. The Merry Wives of Windsor has all the classic Shakespeare comedic ingredients of mishap, misunderstanding and a happy"‘ish ending.
The danger with Falstaff as a character is the temptation to play him as all bluster and bluff. Desmond Barrit is perfect for the part with his mixture of repugnance, pity, humour, and misguided sense of sex appeal. Barrit pretty much holds the whole play together with a superb performance that has you laughing at, and with him. When he gets his comeuppance and appears tattered and torn after being thrown in a brook there is a murmur of sympathy from the audience. He doesnt need it. Although Falstaff is thoroughly outwitted by the merry wives, there is an air of resignation about the final scene and a sense thathe is plotting his comeback Falstaff will return
Alongside Desmond Barrit, in this star-studded cast, Anita Dobson plays MistressQuickly darting frenetically about the stage and energetically bobbing her curtsies. She is lively and fun with a hint of the deep throated threats in her voice that made her such a hit with the EastEnders crowd.
Mistress Ford played by Alexandra Gilbreath is deliciously naughty, leading Falstaff on with a fruity wiggle and a sparkling smile, aided and abetted by the frumpier Mistress Page, Sylvestra Le Touzel, who plays the Sloane Ranger to perfection. While I was watching the play I couldnt place her, and then it came to me remember the Heineken ad where the posh actress is being coached to talk common? The Water in Majorca, Dont Taste Like What it Oughta thatsher.
Their husbands, Frank Ford played by John Ramm and George Page played by Martin Hyder, keep the play pacey and Ramms portrayal of the insanely jealous husband is spot on.
Only quibbles are that at three hours the production is on the long side and while I understand the directors choice of modern day costumes relevant to current times etc they were a bit drab. The set designs, however, are superb, including a real old English pub.
The scene where Falstaff, dressed in an unfeasibly large cod-piece, cavorts with Mistress Ford is hilarious, and worth the ticket price alone.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until January 12, 2013. Tickets available online at www.rsc.org.uk; tel: 0844 8001110