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The Merry Wives of Windsor - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

Shakespeare's riotous comedy kicks off the summer season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Director Blanche McIntyre returns to deliver a terrific production.

Samantha Spiro as Meg Page and John Hodgkinson as Sir John Falstaff. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Shakespeare's suburban knockabout comedy follows Sir John Falstaff and his quest to woo two married women only for the wives to team up and mock his advances. McIntyre sets her production in the modern day with The Garter showing the next international football match between England and Germany on 'Pie Sports' and characters wearing England football shirts - there is even a brief rendition of 'Sweet Caroline' at the top of the second act. The modern-day setting doesn't distract in any way as McIntyre allows for the comedy and the colourful characters to be at the core of this light and bright production.

John Hodgkinson is a triumph as Falstaff. Relishing in the delivery Hodgkinson side glances at the audience or reacts back to the audience's reactions. He is so wonderfully self-aware in the role and has a comedic delivery that could rival any of the great Falstaffs from the past. 

The Wives are gleefully played by Samantha Spiro as Meg Page and Siubhan Harrison as Alice Ford. The pair giggle as they plot and plan how to cruelly mock Falstaff. They relish in their moments and enjoy their mockery. A highlight is the tremendous buck basket scene especially as Hodgkinson flings himself inside the basket.

Samantha Spiro (Meg Page) and Siubhan Harrison (Alice Ford). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

As Frank Ford (Richard Goulding) learns of Falstaff's plot to woo his wife he disguises himself as Mr Brook to meet with Falstaff to discover these plans for himself. Goulding rages around in the search for Falstaff. There's a great slapstick scene as Falstaff disguises himself as The Fat Woman of Brentford to escape only to be beaten by Ford who can not abide her. 

Wil Johnson is the slightly softer of the two husbands but he is persuasive towards his daughter, Anne, who he wants to marry his selected suitor Slender rather than Fenton who Anne herself has fallen in love with. This side plot plays out well with Tara Tijani's Anne and John Leader's Fenton romance creating a believable pairing. 

Jason Thorpe has a lot of fun as Dr Caius, here the role is a dentist, and the accent work is superb. Though this side plot does linger a little too long. Thorpe's accent work and crossed sounds add to the hilarity of the production. Ian Hughes as the Welsh Sir Hugh Evans. Emily Houghton as Host of the Garter and Shazia Nicholls as Mistress Quickly also impress. 

Robert Innes Hopkins' outstanding set and costumes root the production in a series of locations throughout. The clever use of a revolving triangular building allows for fast scene changes from the houses of Windsor to The Garter Inn. The final reveal of Herne's Oak is a visual feast to the scenes as Falstaff disguised as Herne The Hunter is approached by a pack of fairies donning LED masks. Atmospheric lighting by Malcolm Rippeth helps to bring lightness to the comedy whilst adding tension when required. 

John Leader (Fenton) and Tara Tijani (Anne Page). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Director McIntyre and the assembled company have a great time staging and performing the piece and this really comes across as an audience member when you watch the show. Shakespeare's great comedy is delivered for huge laughs and provides a lovely accompinment for the summer with a fantastic Falstaff at the core. A delighting triumph.


The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company until 7th September 2024. Playing in rep alongside School for Scandal which runs from 2nd July until 6th September. For tickets and more information visit

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