Theatre Review: THE MERRY WIVES – The Lowry, Salford

Barry Rutter and Becky Hindley in THE MERRY WIVES. Image: Nobby Clark ©

Barry Rutter and Becky Hindley in Northern Broadsides’ THE MERRY WIVES. Image Credit: Nobby Clark ©

Lively, inventive and wickedly funny, Northern Broadsides’ production of THE MERRY WIVES is a full-on farce that’s sure to entertain

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR may not have been one of Shakespeare’s favourite plays but it certainly appears to be one of Barry Rutter’s. The light, funny and wickedly entertaining play is third time Northern Broadsides has staged the production, which coincides with Shakespeare’s 400th birthday year, and the third time that Northern Broadsides’ Artistic Director Barrie Rutter has played Falstaff.  

Originally published in 1602, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR tells the story of Sir John Falstaff, a disreputable and impoverished knight (who you may recongise from the HENRY IV plays) who attempts to seduce the wives of two of leading merchants in order to get money out of them. But Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are wise to his plan and exact their revenge with hilarious and unimaginable consequences.

Lively, inventive and wickedly funny, Northern Broadsides’ production of THE MERRY WIVES is a full-on farce based on love, jealousy, lust and misunderstanding. The jovial revenge romp is transported from its traditional southern setting (hence the change in title) to a town in Northern England during the roaring 1920s with the action taking place at a tennis and golf country club.

Much of the comedy arises from the over-the-top acting with the characters chasing each other about on stage like a scene from a CARRY ON film. Northern Broadsides do a fantastic job of squeezing every last ounce of comedy gold from Shakespeare’s calamitous tale, as the bevy of cunningly colourful characters verbally tease each other and revel in the chaotic and scandalous shenanigans.

Becky Hindley and Nicola Sanderson in Northern Broadsides' THE MERRRY WIVES. Image: Nobby Clark ©

Becky Hindley and Nicola Sanderson in Northern Broadsides’ THE MERRRY WIVES. Image: Nobby Clark ©

Rutter plays a memorable performance as Shakespeare’s shambling antihero Sir John Falstaff, the the skint and overweight knight who is larger than life in every capacity. His portrayal of the fallen hero is funny and engaging, as he shambles around the stage in a sorrowful state.

Nicola Sanderson (Mistress Alice Ford) and Becky Hindley (Mistress Margaret Page) shine as the formidable and mischievous Merry Wives, plotting their humiliation over cocktails. Their timing is exemplary and their hilarious conspiratorial interplay is a joy to watch as they collapse into unlady-like laughter as they revel in their latest tricks.

The leads are supported by a talented cast of vividly drawn but believable characters. Andrew Vincent is superb as the absurdly jealous Frank Ford as is Andy Cryer as Doctor Caius whose terrible French accent makes his character all the funnier. Jos Vantyler is also excellent as the stupid but poetically inclined Abraham Slender.

As with many of Shakespeare’s works, a few of the scenes are a little too long in parts and a few issues with sound at the start interrupts an otherwise excellent performance. That said, Northern Broadsides’ crisp lighting, smart period costuming and talented cast pull the farce through to an elaborate finale involving nocturnal fairies, a cheesy song and the Charleston.

If you like your Shakespeare light, funny and wickedly entertaining, then Northern Broadsides’ THE MERRY WIVES is the play for you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THE MERRY WIVES runs at The Lowry until 19 March 2016