The Merry Wives of Windsor

William Shakespeare
RSC at the Old Vic
(2003)

Rachel Kavanaugh has chosen to set Shakespeare's comedy in the mid-1940's. This gives her designer Peter McKintosh scope to have great fun with his costumes. These belie the restrictions of austerity England in their bright colours and often loud designs.

Richard Cordery makes Sir John Falstaff a gigantic"whale" of a man who obviously loves his indulgences. While his desire for food and wine may offend nobody, his wish to cuckold not one but two honest men is overly ambitious.

He is also too gullible for his own good. Egged on by the chirpy Mistress Quickly (Alison Fiske), he becomes a figure of fun as he hides in laundry baskets, women's clothing and finally imitates a stag. Cordery does well as a comic figure whose humour, like that of Malvolio in Twelfth Night should be stretched beyond reason, but is not.

Of the doleful husbands and merry wives, Tom Mannion as the manic Ford (and his Scottish alter ego) and Lucy Tregear as the cool, detached Mistress Page are the pick, as they run themselves and Sir John ragged.

One touch wholly justifies the anachronistic setting. This is to make the schoolgirl, Anne Page's ultimately successful suitor, Chuk Iwuji's Fenton, a Black GI. Shakespeare himself could not have better explained why her parents disdain him as a husband for their daughter, even preferring the vacuous Slender (Adam Kay) and Greg Hicks' weird Doctor Caius. The latter gives a fair impression of a French George Cole in the St. Trinian's films.

While it can lack a little passion and sometimes seems more Regents Park than RSC, Rachel Kavanaugh's production is good fun. It has a solid cast in a fairly heavily cut version, which builds on a slow start that enables all of the characters to be clearly delineated. They eventually reach a suitably manic final set-piece as each Machiavellian plotter gets their comeuppance in advance of a benignly happy ending.

Steve Orme has also reviewed this production when it first opened at the Swan, Stratford

Reviewer: Philip Fisher