Sound of laughter in the suburbs - The Rugby Observer

Sound of laughter in the suburbs

Ian Hughes 14th Jun, 2024   0

A GOOD laugh is certainly not going to go amiss in the current climate of doom and gloom – both news-wise and weather-wise – and this production certainly offers plenty of them.

Shakespeare’s very British comedy, penned as legend would have it at the demand of Elizabeth I, who wanted more of Sir John Falstaff following the Henry IV plays, has often been cited as the original sitcom.

While it may not be one of his best works – it’s not even his best comedy – it remains a crowd-pleaser nonetheless, and that is certainly true of this excellent production directed by Blanche McIntyre.

The laughter dial is ramped up to 11 with no potential for a laugh lost – however corny at times it may be. This production’s funnybone is one very much rooted in the great British tradition of unabashed silliness and farce. From Carry On to Benny Hill, Some Mothers Do Ave Em to ‘Allo ‘Allo. Subtle it is certainly not, and that is just what makes it so much fun.

We are in contemporary suburbia, a world of curtain-twitching gossipers where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Robert Innes Hopkins’ inventive set design provides the perfect backdrop with an immaculately manicured lawn and right angled hedges, which surround a revolving centrepiece which triples-up for the Page’s home, Dr Caius’ surgery and the ‘Pie Sports’ screening Garter pub’. Innes Hopkins makes full use of the RST’s impressive arsenal of trickery from below and above, including a mighty fine Herne’s Oak from around which emerge luminous masked fairies as Falstaff’s humiliation is sealed.

Good Queen Bess wanted more laughs from Falstaff and John Hodgkinson’s daper and well-groomed fat knight in smart blue three piece suit, until his tumble into the Thames, would no doubt have met with her approval. His nods, shrugs and knowing glances to the audience are pure panto, as is his bright red high heels tottering Fat Woman of Brentford. That said, he also brings genuine pathos to the role as he realises he’s been made a chump of.

There is plenty of fine support – Shazia Nicolls’ wonderful Essex girl Mistress Quickly, Ian Hughes’ very Welsh parson Sir Hugh Evans, Jason Thorpe’s Cauis with his ‘Allo ‘Allo mispronunciations, and Patrick Walshe McBride’s Slender is Pike meets Frank Spencer. Samantha Spiro’s Mistress Meg Page and Siubhan Harrison’s Mistress Alice Ford also spark nicely off each other as they lead Falstaff on his merry dance, never better than in the high farce of the laundry basket.

As has become standard practice with the most prose heavy play in the canon, liberty is taken with the text, with a few contemporary asides sprinkled in. Falstaff’s football clad followers even briefly lead the audience in a rendition of Sweet Caroline. Quite how long that will continue into the run may depend on how England get on at the Euros.

But whatever further misery the summer may bring, this production is sure to continue raising plenty of laughs.

The Merry Wives of Windsor runs until September 7. Visit for further details.



Online Editions

Catch up on your local news by reading our e-editions on the Rugby Observer.


Find a career you'll love with our free career finder website.


We can provide all of your printing needs at competitive rates.


Receive a weekly update to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter.