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Gary Thomas - The Merry Wives Interview

Writer and producer Gary Thomas is bringing a riotously fun musical adaption of William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor to Wandsworth Fringe and Whitley Bay this summer.

An irreverent mash-up of laugh-out-loud humour and foot-tapping bubblegum pop that will both delight Shakespeare aficionados and sceptics of the Bard. The Merry Wives transcends the classic story, weaving in jubilant music and hilarious dialogue breathing new life into the story for the modern era.

Ahead of the production, I spoke with Gary to discuss the piece.

Can you tell me a little bit about the show in your own words?

The Merry Wives is an irreverent, funny new musical with banging pop songs and is a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It has everything you’d expect in a Shakespeare show but with lots of twists. For example, Anne doesn’t want to marry Slender, so in this new version I’ve made Slender gay (I mean his name is literally Slender!) and Anne decides to matchmake him with another gay prince, but it turns out there aren’t that many around! Coupled with Falstaff’s own matchmaking, along with the jealousy’s of Mr Ford, and what that would mean today, audiences are going to be in for a fun night!

What inspired you to want to produce a new production of The Merry Wives?

I’ve seen a number of different versions of Shakespeare shows over the years, and I’ve always found it odd when they really update it to modern times but they don’t change the language. I feel like it can be a real barrier to loads more people enjoying it, but also I realised that Anne gets the guy she wants (Fenton) at the end, but Fenton only has like 20 lines in the whole play! I love the rom-com genre, I’m a sucker for a tub of ice cream (Strawberry Cheesecake if you’re asking ;) and I’ll watch Isn’t It Romantic for the 24th time. Or My Best Friend’s Wedding, Mamma Mia, any of those.

And I’ve had a lot of fun working out where the youngsters are going to be when all the other stuff is going on. The joke in my head is that the highest grade I ever got in High School was a ‘D’, and now I’m rewriting Shakespeare!

How did you approach the text and modernise the piece?

For me, it’s one of the earliest rom-coms ever writer, so that was my first thought. Then I looked at the characters. Mr. Ford is insanely jealous. Would his wife put up with that now? What’s that like in the world of ‘Me Too’ and writing (hopefully) strong female characters? Mrs Ford wouldn’t put up with that shit, so that puts them on their own journey. Fenton gets 20 lines in the whole thing, yet he gets the girl at the end, so Fenton and Anne need more story time. The three-way triangle Shakespeare creates for this is amazing, but there’s a lot of characters, and it all ends in a party with fairies (because ‘Shakespeare’!) so how can I make that better and for now. My head just does this stuff, and works it all out, and its been loads of fun to write.

Characters like Falstaff are a hoot, is it fun getting to work on characters like him?

Yeah, you can’t take Falstaff out of it. He’s the reason for the whole thing! So it’s great to have his little matchmaking scheme with the newer matchmaking scheme with Anne and the (gay) prince. The audience expect certain things, and that’s definitely something you can play with.

It’s like what WOULDN’T that guy do!? And then just translate that into now.

You want to encourage people who haven't seen or don't enjoy Shakespeare, to come, what would your message be to those cautious of booking?

Ideally, I would love it if a school kid comes to see this show who think they never understand Shakespeare, to come, and if they wrote up a scene from this version for a report, they’d get THE MERRY WIVES BY GARY THOMAS (almost) right, because the language barrier has been removed. Falstaff may be sending love messages to WhatsApp groups, but moments like that are essentially the same as the original.

And I think because of it actually funnier. If nothing else, you’ll have a laugh!

Has working on the show made you want to work on other Shakespeare shows?

I loved &Juliet the musical, and saw it 7 times. That to me is like the gold standard of how you might rework a Shakespeare play. I’d love to look at some more of his comedies to see where I could go next.

Can you describe the show in 3 words?

Hilarious, irreverent, modern.

What do you want audiences to take away from this production of The Merry Wives?

Ultimately it’s about audiences having a good time with something some of them might never expect they’d enjoy. It’s Shakespeare, and there’s enough in for the traditional fans, and it would be great to see everyone with big smiles as they leave the venue, and if they’ve come with partners, thoughts of a night of romance coming up!

The Merry Wives plays at The Wandsworth Fringe on Monday 12th June 2023. Tickets are available from The show also plays in Whitley Bay on 27th and 28th July. Tickets are available from

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