First review of 2019: RSC's Merry Wives of Windsor, Barbican - is the year off to a good start?
[Fiona] Laird brilliantly brings to life the Elizabethan bawdy humour, mixed with 70's 'ooh er missus' and a good sprinkling of contemporary references for good measure.
Being my first time seeing Merry Wives of Windsor, I did a tiny bit of research which seemed to suggest a play of less literary merit compared to Shakespeare's other works and a plot, when written down, that just baffled.
So I wasn't sure what to expect as I settled into my seat, would my first play of the year be a damp squib?
Two hours and 45 minutes later, I'd had Falstaff thrust his codpiece towards me, joined in a sing-a-long with Sir Hugh Evans (David Acton) and laughed a lot.
This production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, under the direction of Fiona Laird, is a bit like watching a live Carry On Film.
Laird brilliantly brings to life the Elizabethan bawdy humour, mixed with 70's 'ooh er missus' and a good sprinkling of contemporary references* for good measure.
The costumes are contemporary with an Elizabethan twist and the 400-year-old dialogue spoken with an Essex brogue so that it feels a bit like you are watching a reality TV show.
Tuning the ear to Shakespeare didn't feel necessary as it somehow sounded contemporary - perhaps the injection of the odd modern reference and mannerism helped.
Every character is colourfully portrayed (as well as dressed) with their own ticks and inflexions from the dreamy but clumsy Fenton (Luke Newberry) to the leopard print-wearing, cleavage-adjusting Hostess of the Garter (Katy Brittain).
It means that the rotund and ruddy-nosed Falstaff (David Troughton) with his grotesquely amusing lasciviousness and simple greed is less star more important plot point.
And that isn't a criticism, sometimes when you have one or two very strong, entertaining characters the scenes without them fall flat.
That certainly isn't the case here, in fact, there is never a dull moment.
If there is any dominance then it is the female characters and in particular the Merry Wives of the title - Mistress Page (Rebecca Lacey) and Mistress Ford (Beth Cordingly) who not only cleverly plot mischievous revenge on Falstaff for his lust and avarice motivated love letters but also run rings around their husbands.
In fact, if there is anything deeper to take away from this it is the power that Shakespeare invested in the female characters and the ridiculousness with which he clothed the men.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is great fun and very entertaining and why shouldn't a night at the theatre be like that? I'm giving it five stars and 2019 is off to a cracking start.
It is at the Barbican until January 5.
My hours wasted on funny YouTube clips paid dividends as I was one of a handful that got the 'Fenton!' reference.
© RSC's Merry Wives of Windsor: Rebecca Lacey in the foreground and Beth Cordingly. Photo Manuel Harlan
If you missed Merry Wives Of Windsor, the RSC's Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre is also good fun and runs until Feb 2.
You might also like to read:
9 Plays I'm looking forward to in 2019
My 2018 favourite theatre moments