Shakespeare's Globe, London, Global

02/06/2020 - 15/06/2020

COVID-19 Level 2 Festival

Production Details

The Merry Wives of Windsor story

Imagining that Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have each fallen for him, the fat knight Sir John Falstaff decides to seduce them both, as much for their husbands’ money as for their personal charms. Wise to the old rogue’s tricks, the women turn the tables on him with a series of humiliating assignations and a very damp, extremely smelly laundry basket.

About the production

The Merry Wives of Windsor is the only comedy that Shakespeare set in his native land. This production draws influences from British 1930s fashion, music and dance, and with its witty mix of verbal and physical humour, rejoices in a tradition that reaches right down to the contemporary English sitcom.

Directed by Elle White, it stars Olivier Award-nominated Bryony Hannah as Mistress Ford, Sarah Finigan as Mistress Page and Pearce Quigley as Falstaff. The Windsor Locals appear courtesy of Soldiers’ Arts Academy, London Bubble and Clean Break.

There are 20 characters played by a multi-ethnic cast of six women and seven men, as well as five musicians who sit centrally in the gallery above, within the frame of a huge gold ring, dressed in black dinner suits with white shirts and black bow ties. Several of the women play male roles in this gender fluid production.

The original performance took place at the Globe Theatre, London, in summer 2019.

Stream Shakespeare’s sitcom from the comfort of your own home:
(UK time) from 7pm, 1 – 14 June 2020
(NZ time) from 6am, 2 – 15 June 2020


Support us

Our doors are temporarily closed but our hearts and minds are open. In this unprecedented time for the cultural sector, and as a charity that receives no regular government subsidy, we need donations to help us to continue to thrive in the future. We hope you’ve enjoyed watching our free Globe Player films: if you are able, please donate what you can to help us continue to share Shakespeare’s gift of stories.

If you donate, and are an eligible UK taxpayer, we will be able to increase your donation by 25% due to Gift Aid at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to support us, you can donate here:… #TheMerryWivesofWindsor #GlobePlayer

Webcast , Theatre , Comedy ,

2 hrs 20 mins

Boldly celebrates Britishness in its vast variety

Review by Terry MacTavish 04th Jun 2020

This week as the USA burns, protesting racial and social inequality enforced by police brutality, under a president who brazenly brandishes a bible but whose message is the opposite of ‘love one another’, and as all the world is hit by pandemic-driven recession, it seems entirely appropriate that the Globe releases, free to all, a production set during the Depression of the 1930s.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy with a contemporary feel. A rarity among Shakespeare’s works, it is written almost entirely in prose about ordinary middle-class citizens turning the tables on the powerful and entitled. Fat old Sir John Falstaff considers he has a perfect right to seduce not one but two respectable married women, not for love nor even primarily for lust, but because he is running low on funds, and believes they hold their husbands’ purse-strings. “I will predominate over the peasant!” 

In his overweening arrogance (“You can do anything, grab them by the …” whoops, that particular line was someone else’s, but you get the idea) he sends Mrs Ford and Mrs Page identical love letters. As they are besties, it takes hardly more time than a quick text would for them to tumble to his plan: “I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names!” Being women of spirit and humour, they immediately decide to punish him: “I think the best way were to entertain him with hope till the wicked fire of lust have melted him in his own grease.” 

Meantime this plan has proved too gross even for Falstaff’s followers Pistol and Nym, who determine to spill the beans to the two husbands. Page is somewhat amused but Ford, being of a jealous disposition, is determined to catch out Falstaff, which sets up further complications. Three times the feisty wives trick and humiliate the fat knight, “this gross wat’ry pumpion” (pumpkin), most hilariously when he is forced to hide in a stinky buck-basket of dirty washing, and is carted through the delighted audience to be tipped into the nearby Thames river.

The sub-plot involves the Pages, who intend to marry off their pretty daughter Anne. Page endorses the suit of Slender, the foolish nephew of Justice Shallow, while his wife prefers the French physician, Dr Caius. Naturally Anne, another of Shakespeare’s lovely sparky heroines, has her own ideas and favours the gentlemanly Fenton.  Act 5 wraps up both stories neatly, as Anne plans her elopement and Falstaff is lured by the crafty wives into the Forest of Windsor, where the townsfolk await him, disguised as malicious fairies. 

Costumes, music and dance plunder the 30s enthusiastically. The audience responds rapturously to Frank Moon’s onstage jazz band and the choreography by Sasha Milavic Davies, the irresistible dance numbers inspired by the almost manic desperation characteristic of the 30s. If you have become a little blasé about the jig that concludes every Globe production, prepare to be blown away by this closing number. It’s hard to take your eyes off jitterbugging Fenton in particular!

As expected, the Globe repertory cast is altogether a delight, maintaining a scintillating pace and producing unexpected treats like a sharply executed dumb show to ragtime music. Sarah Finigan and Bryony Hannah revel in the great roles of the wives, although they are so confident (Mrs Ford even wields a whip!) that there is never any doubt they can outwit both predators and jealous husbands.  I have myself directed younger actors in this play, who saw Falstaff as a perpetrator of a very common type of sexual harassment, that in our society they have not found so easy to shrug off. 

Reviewers have disagreed over the performance of Pearce Quigley as Falstaff, and at first he strikes me as too dour, certainly less rambunctious than some I’ve seen, not the roaring boy of Henry IV, but I warm to his interpretation, and enjoy his throwaway lines, the little ad-libs to the audience: “It’s French for ‘ogle’ – look it up!”  The groundlings don’t even seem to mind when he empties water from his shoe over the front row. Ultimately, like the ‘madly-used’ Malvolio, he actually inspires pity. This is a generous play, demonstrating tolerance and selfless neighbourly assistance, with forgiveness at its heart.

All the characters are treated with sympathy, and for once real attention is paid to the lives of the servants, who sometimes appear morally superior. Not only do Falstaff’s servants despise his shenanigans, but the host of the Garter Inn acts as peacemaker, intervening to stop a ridiculous duel. The audience empathises audibly with the poor lads obliged to wrestle with the buck-basket. They get some good lines too, like “the world’s my oyster”.

My own favourite servant is go-between Mrs Quickly (Anita Reynolds), who struggles to find the right word (well before the invention of Mrs Malaprop), mangling her meaning by substituting ‘infection’ for ‘affection’, ‘adversary’ for ‘emissary’, and instead of ‘mistook their directions’ comes up with ‘erections’. Oh yes, plenty of smutty double-entendres here!

Bearing in mind that Shakespeare was writing when England was beset with enemies, and developing a strong sense of nationhood, it is not surprising that much of the humour relies on a cheerful xenophobia. There is only a glancing reference to a gang of thieving Germans who are apparently roaming the countryside, but Shakespeare has great fun mocking the comical accents and linguistic mistakes of French Dr Caius (Richard Katz) and Welsh parson Sir Hugh Evans (Hedydd Dylan). Yet these foreigners are assimilated into the community despite the cheerful teasing.

The Globe production directed by Elle While plunges in without embarrassment, embracing a terrific diversity of accent, colour, gender and, unless I mistake, orientation, in the fine cast, boldly celebrating Britishness in its vast variety.

Moreover, three community groups are included in the cast, with eight different representatives from these on the Globe stage every night playing the Windsor locals.  These theatre groups are the London Bubble, which works a lot with young people, the Soldiers’ Arts Academy, and Clean Break, started by women ex-convicts. I wonder what the army and the prisoners learnt from each other!

I love the inclusiveness and courage of this Globe initiative. And how heart-warming to watch a play that concludes (spoiler alert!) with everyone pardoned, from eloping lovers to the naughty knight, and this excellent advice: “Let us every one go home, and laugh this sport over by a country fire – Sir John and all!”  Just what the world needs right now, as in Shakespeare’s time and in the Depression of the 30s: equality, justice, forgiveness, kindness.

(So please, don’t neglect to thank the Globe for The Merry Wives of Windsor by making a donation!)

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