This most comic of tales is exploited to the hilt in a Monty Python-esque production at Shakespeare’s Globe, writes Caroline Bishop.
A Frenchman who could easily have been plucked from the cast of Monty Python’s Spamalot, a jealous husband whose mannerisms owe much to John Cleese, a preening idiot and a token Welshman: Christopher Luscombe’s exceedingly merry production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor happily plays up the Python comparisons evident in Shakespeare’s farcical crowd-pleaser (of course, the Bard got there first) to create a show of unabashed silliness.
Christopher Benjamin’s ruddy and rotund Falstaff is the self-important, self-indulgent knight around which this plot of light-hearted trickery takes place. His presumptuous attempt to woo two married women by sending them identical love letters backfires on him when the quick-witted pair – Mistress Page and Mistress Ford – share notes and hatch a plan to teach the fat knight a lesson. Meanwhile, the Pages’ daughter Anne is negotiating her way through the perilous process of choosing a suitor to marry. Unimpressed with her parents’ choices – either the esteemed, hot blooded Frenchman Doctor Caius or the idiotic and presumably closeted gay Abraham Slender – she would rather marry someone she actually has feelings for, Fenton.
Highlighting the fact that this is a play about intelligent women and gullible men, Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward as Mistresses Page and Ford delight in leading Falstaff in a merry dance as they trick him into believing the latter lady is open to his advances. Ford’s distrusting husband, played by Andrew Havill in a dirty-green outfit that befits his extreme jealousy, displays a range of facial expressions and comic mannerisms from the school of Cleese as he depicts a man obsessed with catching his wife in an act of imagined adultery. Sue Wallace, as Mistress Quickly, adds to the comedy and the confusion as the various tricksters’ go-between.
Shakespeare’s penchant for cavorting in the woods lends itself to the final scene, in which a rather pitiful Falstaff receives his comeuppance in a forest full of make-believe fairies, and Anne Page’s marital destiny is revealed when her parents’ scheming goes amusingly awry.
While the jealous Mr Ford is, in my view, more deserving of such treatment than the harmless Falstaff, even he learns his lesson in this neatly concluded episode. Shakespeare’s good humoured play has no real baddie, only a bunch of people whose regular human frailties often get the better of them.