Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Maltings Theatre’s The Merry Wives of Windsor | Review

The Maltings Theatre’s The Merry Wives of Windsor | Review

MERRY WIVES at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival August 2020. Photo by Laura Harling
MERRY WIVES at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival August 2020. Photo by Laura Harling

Adam Nichols’ 90-minute adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor is an absolute belter of bawdiness and the perfect pick-me-up for a pandemic. Shakespeare’s comic spin-off from the Henry histories was written as a vehicle to return the deliciously obese and lecherous Falstaff, who provided comic relief in the more seriously-toned Henry IV historical dramas, and is now the animating force and butt of jokes in this full-throated comedy. Nichols has chosen to set the action in the 1980s which works perfectly given this play is centred around the aspirations and comic manners of the middle class and serves as the template for many a famed British sit-com of the same era.

Taking full command of the available space, we meet 80s metal band The Spirit of Wantonness (with umlauts aplenty in their signage) and ageing front-man Sir John Falstaff (Lachlan McCall), all eye-liner and peacocking gestures. Playing live and treating us to many an in-joke musical number, this show delivers outstanding entertainment at an incredibly reasonable ticket price. Whilst this production is japes a-go-go, the triple-threat cast are excellent in all aspects and the throw-back musical numbers are simply fun. Where sometimes running a time-specific thread through Shakespeare can feel strained or obvious in a parallel being drawn for the audience, this production’s song-and-dance numbers may occasionally feel a little panto but are pure pleasure, especially for Generation X-ers who knew them the first time around.

Tight and pacey, The Merry Wives of Windsor’s subplots are rather pleasingly simplified. The essence of Shakespeare’s screwball comedy (about exposing and ridiculing Falstaff’s attempted cuckolding and letting young lovers, Anne Page and Quentin Fenton, overcome their elders’ material ambitions of another more advantageous arranged marriage) remains and shines through, with the modern references complementary rather than distracting. Simon Nicholas’ set is a triumph and the cast make full use of both the height and depth of the built and surrounding natural elements – giving the staging a sense of grandeur and immersion whilst providing a 3-dimensional world for great physical comedy performances to shine through.

The lanky Will Pattle (as Abraham Slender) moves with an almost Lee Evans-like clowning that makes him a joy to watch. Flora Squires is equally energetic and committed in her characterisation of the ever-chomping Anne Page who pines to make her own love-match and expresses herself with many an apt musical number (and the occasional full-body tantrum). Zak Robinson conquers the role of Quentin Fenton which is especially impressive given the love-struck youths of Shakespeare’s comedies are sometimes amongst the blander of his characters. Particular kudos belongs to Robinson who not only embodied the role with charisma and appeal but who also fearlessly belted out a Billy Idol number, unphased by a minor technical microphone glitch during the premiere caused by thunder storms robbing the production of its tech time before opening, which I’m confient will be resolved before the next performance. Isabella Javor is hilarious and commanding as burger-bar tending Stella Quickly whilst also giving full poetic life to Shakespeare’s prose.

Amongst the older generation of characters, David Widdowson and Emma Wright (as Mr and Mrs Ford) have found just the right sort of texture in a rendition that demands the scenery be chewed. Anna Franklin’s comic timing as Meg Page is glorious and Jo Servi’s vocal command (in song and speech) as Robert Shallow is outstanding. Lachlan McCall’s Falstaff is excellent without pulling focus from the ensemble at the heart of Nichol’s version of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Lizzie Thomson’s costumes are spot-on, as is Ryan Munroe’s choreography; which also demonstrates multiple successes across the challenges of 80’s authenticity, sheer entertainment value and social-distancing problem-solving.

Although director Adam Nichols has made significant modifications to the script to create its setting and its 90-minute run-time, he has remained true to the pure silliness of Shakespeare’s farce of manners to deliver a rich and laugh-out-loud entertainment experience suitable for all ages and tastes. It is testament to the strength of this production that even as a shower passed overhead, causing me to tighten my Gore-tex hood, I never once looked at my watch, but did indeed hum several of the show’s ditties on the way home.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

A summer music festival. A bunch of 80s rockers on the comeback trail. And an ageing lothario who is about to get his comeuppance.

Shakespeare meets Spinal Tap as this classic middle-class comedy gets the full OVO treatment with a live 80s soundtrack, tight trousers and big hair.

Featuring 80s supergroup Spirit of Wantonness performing classics from the decade including Bonnie Tyler, Heart, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses.

A riotous adaptation of what is often seen as the world’s first situation comedy by OVO‘s award-winning Artistic Director Adam Nichols.

TOM CAGNONI – Brian Bardolph
JO SERVI – Robert Shallow
LACHLAN MCCALL – John Falstaff
WILL PATTLE – Abraham Slender
CELESTE COLLIER – Scarlet Pistol
ZAK ROBINSON – Quentin Fenton
EMMA WRIGHT – Alice Ford
ISABELLA JAVOR – Stella Quickly

Creative Team
TOM CAGNONI – Musical Director
RYAN MUNROE – Choreography
HONOR KLEIN – Stage Manager
BECKY BROWN – Production Manager

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Adam Nichols
14th – 31st August 2020


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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