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The Play’s the Thing (But There’s a Great Exhibition Too!)

Updated: Jul 2

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor


When you plan your visit to bask in the wonderful RSC production of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Stratford upon Avon, make sure you plan an extra hour to enjoy a very special exhibition next door.


‘The Play’s The Thing’ is free to visit and, for 2024, the exhibition of 10,000 items has been co-curated with a number of local community organisations, including Coventry’s Positive Youth Foundation, Fred Winter Centre, ILEAP https://ileap.co.uk/ and Warwickshire Pride.


The groups have shaped the exhibition of costumes and accessories, and the written descriptions have been especially created to be clear, concise and easy to read. All the exhibits are supported by the Zappar app, giving every visitor an augmented reality experience to really add value to the tour.


The friendly guides are there to add further value, and to make sure that everyone who might need extra help getting into and around the building is warmly welcomed. The two guides on duty when we visited went over and above to make sure we got the most out of our visit.


Now to the play . . . if you love Shakespeare, slapstick comedy, clever word play and barnstorming performances, you’re in for a treat.


The Royal Shakespeare Company, in particular Director Blanche McIntyre, has brought this production bang up to date, including Waitrose and Planet Organic bags, furniture from middle England’s favourite retailer and Euros 2024 visual and character references galore.


But, as always, the delivery lies in the skill of the cast. And what a cast. Some early business with Slender (a wonderful Patrick Walshe McBride), Nym (Yasemin Ozdemir), Pistol (Omar Bynon) and Bardolph (David Patridge) and a shopping trolley start the laughs, but Samantha Spiro and Siubhan Harrison as the Merry Wives accelerate the scorching pace.


It’s rumoured that The Merry Wives of Windsor was written when Queen Elizabeth 1 expressed a desire to see a further drama featuring Sir John Falstaff, already known to audiences from three other of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry’ plays.


Whatever the reason, John Hodgkinson’s manifestation of this infamous rogue must be one of the best comedy performances on stage in 2024. Whether he’s leaning in a doorway, launching himself into a laundry basket or lurching from a mud-filled waterway, he’s utterly and horribly mesmerising.


The complex tale involves Falstaff’s attempted seduction of the two Merry Wives, concurrent with three suitors pursuing one of the wives’ daughters, with a French dentist, (Jason Thorpe – genius characterisation, fantastic acting) a Welsh preacher (Ian Hughes) and some German nobility thrown in for dramatic measure.


Shazia Nicholls as Mistress Quickly brings Shakespeare’s demanding text bang up to date, lending real clarity to the complex plot.


Emily Houghton as the Host of the Garter presides over an establishment adorned with England and German flags (marvellously timely stage design) and whoever wrote the stage ‘asides’ as the cast enter and exit should be warmly congratulated.


The RSC’s ongoing commitment to accessible theatre means there are performances especially designed to help theatregoers with a variety of needs to enjoy their experience on: July 18 (1:15pm) Chilled Performance, Hand Held Captioned; August 3 (1:15pm) Captioned; August 30 (7:15pm) Audio Described; September 4 (7:15pm) Signed, Post Show Talk; September 7 (1:15pm) Signed, Chilled Performance.


The Merry Wives of Windsor runs until September 7. To book tickets and for full accessibility information visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/

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