"Good production of Shakespeare's farce"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 17/05/19

Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is a well-loved farcical comedy. Low on cash, Sir John Falstaff (John Chapman) decides to seduce, and then blackmail, two local women, Mistress Page (Helen McCormack) and Mistress Ford (Jill Davy). However, not only do they find his affections ridiculous, but his decision to send them near identical letters motivates them to teach him a lesson. Meanwhile, Falstaff’s companions Pistol (Flavia Corina Di Saverio) and Nym (James Van Langenberg) alert the husbands (Sangita Modgil and Samantha Wright), leading them to devise a scheme to test their wives’ faithfulness. Meanwhile Page’s daughter Anne (Aimee Morris) is being wooed by two suitors: Slender, her father’s preferred choice and Fenton, whom she really loves.

Director Rob Ellis has set the play in 1950s rural England, which is reflected in both the set and the colourful period costumes. To further lighten the mood, a few musical numbers are scattered throughout the production, allowing the cast to showcase their singing and dancing skills. Several of the parts are cross-cast, with both husbands played by women, which works surprisingly well. While Helen McCormack and Jill Davy are resourceful as the eponymous wives, the rest of the cast are able to make many of the minor roles sparkle, particularly Maddie Gordon as Mistress Quickly.

If the production has a flaw it is that Chapman’s portrayal of Falstaff doesn’t quite work. Instead of an ageing roué, with an overinflated view of himself, we get an aggressive, and surprisingly cold, figure. The problem with this decision to emphasise Falstaff’s creepiness, rather than his buffoonery, is that it undercuts the comedy.

Still, this is a charming production that is ideal for an evening in early summer.

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