The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Totus Mundus Season at the Globe has to date been hugely enjoyable and while as a play The Merry Wives of Windsor is a poor cousin to King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Christopher Luscombe and his team ensure that their audiences will leave the theatre happy.
In the early stages, Luscombe has to work hard to embellish the text with witty flourishes to hold the attention. Once the play gets going though, it is a great mix of high farce, smutty punning and even a little pathos.
This is not one of the Bard's better-known works, reputedly written to order because Queen Elizabeth wanted to see Sir John Falstaff revived as the hero of his own play.
Christopher Benjamin in suitably inflated fat suit makes a rubicund, randy, roly-poly knight much to the delight of spectators. As ever, he is his own worst enemy, wooing two (married) women with identical love letters that they quickly compare.
The fun begins as they draw him into a trio of great scenes in which the lustful old soldier is gradually gulled into weary submission, an older but possibly no wiser man than at the start. It is all to Christopher Benjamin's credit that he elicits sympathy for his character at the close, even though we know full well that the old rogue has brought about his own fate.
His story plays in parallel with that of Ellie Piercy's sweet Anne Page, a young beauty pursued by no fewer than four men, three eminently unsuitable and one too poor to please her ambitious parents. They make a fine group, an ageing Welsh priest (Gareth Armstrong), an Inspector Clouseau soundalike (Philip Bird) who happens to be a doctor, a rich young fool with a loose grasp of language (Will Bellchambers) and the true love, played by Irish actor Edward Macliam.
Eventually, the two stories come together on a magical evening packed with leaping spirits in which Anne is triply betrothed and Falstaff doubly dumped.
Christopher Luscombe has great support. Janet Bird has created one of the Globe's most ambitious and attractive designs with a large additional playing area in the pit, complete with ornamental garden; and an open gallery for musicians and actors. The traditional costumes are colourful, especially when Sir John has his eyes on charming a woman or two, while the music is in period.
In addition to the excellent Benjamin, Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans make a fantastic comic double act as the Merry Wives, while Andrew Havill playing the neurotic Ford is hilarious, except while suffering a bad dose of the Basil Fawltys.
While this is not as good an evening as the other two plays in the season to date, there is enough to enjoy in the 2½ hours to make a visit worthwhile.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher