Theatre Review


Home Reviewers








Shakespeare’s Globe presents

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Serena Evans (Mistress Page), Christopher Benjamin (Sir John Falstaff) and Sarah Woodward (Mistress Ford) in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by John Tramper

by William Shakespeare

Directed by Chirstopher Luscombe

Designed by Janet Bird

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

 14 August – 2 October 2010









A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Going to the Globe is an act of theatre in itself. The thatch, the benches and the cosy lack of leg room transport you to beyond even before the play does. Not that this performance needs any paraphernalia. And if you’re worried that Shakespeare alienates, or that The Merry Wives of Windsor is a minor play which doesn’t merit production, immediately book tickets to this lively and physical performance and immediately change your opinions.

When Sir John Falstaff professes his love via letters to two married women – Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, the friends quickly conspire, via the vessel of Miss Quickly, to put him to shame. Unaware of the plan, Master Ford decides to test his wife’s constancy by disguising himself as an out-of-town suitor, Brook, looking for the heart of none other than Mistress Ford. He entraps Falstaff with a bribe, and Falstaff promises Brook that the latter will be ‘cuckolding’ Ford in no time. Oh and there’s a dandy, a doctor and a delightful young squire all after a young maiden’s heart. Sound deliciously farcical? Welcome to the original situation comedy.

Enter the actors. Peter Gale and William Belchambers’ light the kindling as the uncle-nephew partnership of Shallow and Slender, as the casually crooked former seeks to wed the ostensibly bent latter to the much desired Anne. With our hearts chuckling at these sprightly caricatures, in waddles the main event, the humpty-dumpty gnomish rogue that is Sir John Falstaff (Christopher Benjamin). It’s almost as if he’s painted. His tomato face, oil-enhanced waistband and incessant magnetism draw the eye immediately, and we know his barrel-shaped belly has enough laughs to fill one. Around him dance the two mistresses, Serna Evans as Mistress Page, and Sarah Woodward as Mistress Ford. The women move like twins, making full use of the symmetry of the stage (more on that to come) as they spin like pirouetting dolls and perform school yard clap games that would keep any drowsy child wide-eyed. And yet, for me, the real key to the performance is not the women, or the usual stage-stealer Falstaff, but the immaculately poised Andrew Havill playing the charmingly comedic Frank Ford.

Ford is the Basil Fawlty of Windsor - erect, electric, ecstatic and excited. His timing is impeccable and he adopts the John Cleese style of comedy like he is the man himself. His mastery over the script is seen in his ability to draw out its naturalness - he speaks Shakespeare without ‘speaking Shakespearean’ and by that token merits a dutiful and transfixed audience. He is the showpiece of Christopher Luscombe’s direction, and is the exemplar to how much life a script can be given when a director has a clear and impassioned vision. Before I leave the cast, I’m obliged to mention the linguistic humour of Philip Bird’s French Doctor and Gareth Armstrong’s Welsh Parson, both refreshingly un-politically correct, and both executed … well … correctly.

This is a play that involves disguise, concealment and unnoticed escapes, and demands a set to provide it. The Globe doesn’t fail to provide. Firstly, the stage is extended out into the pit in the manner of a looping bridge which swoops directly out of stage left and right. In the space where these bridges meet there’s another stage, which unexpectedly flips to reveal a whole new set of a shrubbery and a garden bench; I won’t reveal what its final transformation entails. This staging device cleverly shifts the audience’s focus between the main stage and the promontory, and allows for creative physical direction, as the characters can subtly mirror each other when they comply, or discord with each other when they conflict.

The costumes are traditionally Shakespearian, but are given new life in the climax fairy scene where woven masks cover faces, and rainbow-streamers lace ghoulish capes. The lighting is rigid and unintrusive, which ensures that the natural fading daylight can work its magic. The music from the five-piece lute, drum, flute, violin and sackbut lilted the action calmly from scene to scene, and punctuated soft tension where soft tension was due. But the masterstroke of Nigel Hess’s sound design came from the precision harmony of pairing actor punch-lines with single-note triangle bites – it errs on the slapstick, but warms the audience a treat.

As a play it has its flaws: Anne Page is insufferably boring, (not the fault of Ceri-Lyn Cissone), and some of the political exchanges drag, but nevertheless, Luscombe glides over these scenes with respect to the Bard and maintains an orchestrated silliness which tickles till the end. For me, the tell-tale test of rating a Shakespeare production is whether you’re sitting there wishing you’d read the play first. In this case I hadn’t, and I was all the more merry for it … and that is the short and long of it.


Ceri-Lyn Cissone (Anne Page), Gerrard McCarthy ( Fenton) in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by John Tramper


Box Office: / 020 7401 9919

Shakespeare's Globe

21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT
Tickets: £35, £22, £15, £5










Home Reviewers