A Very Merry Summer

If you're looking for the perfect summer theatrical treat, then why not make a beeline for Stratford-upon-Avon? From 5 June audiences can enjoy Shakespeare's hilarious suburban comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production features double Olivier Award-winner Samantha Spiro as Mistress Meg Page. Perhaps best known for her role as Maureen Groff in Netflix's Sex Education, many will also remember her celebrated performances as Barbara Windsor in the BBC biopic, Babs, and before that the ITV drama Cor Blimey, centring on the relationship between Barbara Windsor and Sid James. Joining Samantha are Siubhan Harrison (The Ocean at the End of the Lane) as Mistress Alice Ford; John Hodgkinson (Dear England, RSC's A Christmas Carol) as one of Shakespeare's most beloved characters, Sir John Falstaff; and Richard Goulding, recently seen in Scoop - the Netflix Prince Andrew Newsnight interview drama - as jealous husband Frank Ford.

Rumour has it that The Merry Wives of Windsor was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I, who, after seeing Henry IV Part I, asked Shakespeare to write a play showing Falstaff in love. Whether true or not, it led to one of Shakespeare's most genuinely funny comedies.

The story revolves around the financially stricken Falstaff, who tries to seduce the merry wives for their money. But they're wise to his game, and decide to teach him (and their husbands!) a lesson he won't forget.

Talking about the production director Blanche McIntyre, says: "I've wanted to direct The Merry Wives of Windsor for a long time. Its mixture of comedy and vulnerability foreshadows great writers such as Alan Ayckbourn, and its farcical set pieces are the forerunners of classic sitcom. I'm setting the play in a contemporary small town, as I think its gossipy lack of privacy, its suburban values and its overheated town politics are timeless."

Samantha and Siubhan, who play the merry wives, agree that it's definitely one of Shakespeare's most laugh-out-loud and accessible plays, and includes a number of scenes that wouldn't be out of place in a sitcom.

Reflecting on the play, Siubhan comments, "At one point, to avoid being discovered by Master Ford, who distrusts his wife's fidelity, we trick Falstaff into getting into a laundry basket full of dirty clothes. So you have this 6' 5" man, trying to get into a laundry basket without Master Ford noticing. And that comedy, that style of comedy, it's Fawlty Towers basically."

Samantha concurs, adding, "Yes both Ford and Falstaff are those classic male sitcom characters, as you say, Basil Fawlty, then going into David Brent, Alan Partridge - there's a whole line in sitcoms of those men - really arrogant pompous men, on the verge of explosion. It's so funny to watch, and it absolutely feels very Alan Ayckbourn. And with it being set in a small town with gossipy neighbours and class wars, it's got a bit of The Good Life in there as well."

It's also a play that feels decidedly modern, certainly in its depiction of women, as Samantha explains: "The wives are definitely the brains in the play. For something written 400 years ago by a man, the wives are funny, strong women; they're the ones pulling the wool over the men's eyes. These are women who trust each other, get each other, make each other laugh. And for audiences, I think it'll be really exciting to come along and just see these really bright funny women bossing it."

The Merry Wives of Windsor runs in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon between 5 June - 7 September. Tickets: rsc.org.uk


*TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY. Tickets are for selected date only and for the 7.15pm performance in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Tickets cannot be exchanged or refunded.
Photo of Samantha Spiro (Mistress Page) and Siubhan Harrison (Alice Ford) taken at The Londoner Hotel, London Photo by Seamus Ryan
Start date: 
Friday, 3 May, 2024 - 12:00 to Friday, 5 July, 2024 - 12:00
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