“I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt”
Hoping that the above quote doesn’t ring true, this revival of Christopher Luscombe’s 2008 The Merry Wives of Windsor slips back into Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of a US and UK tour taking in Santa Monica, New York, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Richmond and Bath through to December.
The only of Shakespeare’s plays to take place in his contemporary England, it takes some of the characters familiar from the Henry IV plays, most notably Falstaff and creates a pleasing romp as he chases after the wives of two gentlemen from Windsor but doesn’t reckon on just how cunning the women are. There’s also a young couple straining to be together in the face of parental disapproval, some comedic foreigners, some funny business with a laundry basket and a whole load of farcical fun. It plays here, as nicely explained in the programme, as a bit of a forerunner of the modern tv sitcom and it really does work.
A nice thing about this play is its balanced treatment of women, with 3 strong, funny female characters all of which are played with aplomb. Sue Wallace’s Mistress Quickly is nicely knowing in her manipulation of Falstaff and compassionate in rearranging the love affairs of the youngsters. And Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively are just an absolute delight as the mischievous cohorts with a visibly strong friendship. Andrew Havill’s Basil Fawlty inspired mugging as Ford fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece and as Falstaff, Christopher Benjamin wins our sympathies as well as making us laugh.
The only slight disappointments for me was the sagging of the pace in the first half and Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Gerard McCarthy as the rather bland lovers, typified by their overlong duet. William Belchamber’s fey Slender and Philip Bird’s linguistically-challenged Caius were much funnier and more interesting and there was no hint at all of the former drinking buddy of Prince Hal in McCarthy’s Fenton, meaning he came across as just dull.
As a little aside, I do find it curious programming that this sits alongside the two Henry IV plays this year. With the crossover in characters but not the casting and the fact that this doesn’t really square with the timelines of the history plays, it just sits a little odd in terms of the season as a whole. And with Allam’s Falstaff so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but compare, however this is but a minor quibble.
It is clear why this production has been revived though: it is superbly acted throughout the ensemble, it is huge amounts of fun and once it gets started it just romps through its proceedings with a vibrancy and energy that should win over audiences no matter where it plays.