Framed in this snippet of historical context, the limitations of the story become its strength. The lesser known and seldom performed Merry Wives can feel like a shallow Shakespeare spin off with all the capers but none of the complex characterisation. Instead of trying to magic up depth, this production revolves around the fact that the show was a hurried acquiescence to the Queen's desire to see more of Sir John Falstaff (who she enjoyed so much in Henry IV Part One).
Leaning into the pantomime silliness, this revival turns the Elizabethan court into a distinctly bourgeois mock Tudor version of modern Essex. Playful costumes translate traditional elements into a flamboyant Wetherspoons vibe: think skin tight leggings in flocked fabric topped with corsets, navy pinstripe doublets, or rugby shirts paired with ruffs.
We learn the who's who of the locals with a fashion show style opening sequence, where the titular wives sashay across the stage. Looming over the action is Sir John Falstaff, made larger than life and wider than he is tall by David Troughton in a fat suit and swinging codpiece. When the roguish Falstaff attempts to woo the local wives, the women team up to dupe and humiliate him.
Relocated to the beauty parlour, the scenes of female scheming play out with flat Essex accents, tottering heels and tittering giggles. Beth Cordingly as Mistress Ford and Rebecca Lacey as Mistress Page bring an air of mischief and plenty of comedy, as they debunk the assumption that women are either adulterers or airheads.
Though the relatively uncut production runs at almost three hours, the energy doesn't drop. Smart modern touches, such as the Proustian musings of the Polish builders and the hot pink wheelie bin, sit well alongside the Shakespearean verse. And the spirit of silliness breathes new life and fun into one of Shakespeare's most overlooked works.
|What||The Merry Wives of Windsor, Barbican Theatre review|
|Where||Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
07 Dec 18 – 07 Jan 19, 7:15 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £59.50|
|Website||Click here for more information (including matinees)|