Described by the Globe itself as a ‘sitcom’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is a peculiar farce, in which aged roué John Falstaff – a boozy gent who pops up throughout Shakespeare’s canon – tries to score with two ladies from the titular town at the same time. Wise to his intentions, Mistresses Ford and Page lead the silly old twit on, subjecting him to all kinds of indignities while preserving their honour. He gets to look ridiculous and we all have a good laugh. It’s like the comic subplot of another Shakespeare play given its own vehicle; ‘King Lear’ it is not. But in the right hands, it can be a really entertaining evening, and the next in the Globe’s series of free streaming archive productions makes the most of its slapstick potential.
This 2019 staging from the Globe moves ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ to the 1930s, reimagining it as a kind of much more bawdy Noël Coward society comedy. Our review from the time praised a great lead turn from Pearce Quigley: ‘The highlight of this production is undoubtedly Pearce Quigley’s central performance. He’s not the jovial, boozing Falstaff stereotype: instead, he’s hilariously dour and mournful, a sad sack of a man who’s emptied of his last shred of dignity by the title’s conniving Merry Wives.’ We also loved ‘Bryony Hannah’s turn as Mistress Ford [which] gets the biggest audience reaction; the groundlings went friskily wild for her whip-cracking come-ons to a lusty Falstaff.’
We concluded: ‘Shaking your fist at this play’s ridiculousness is about as pointless as trying to send the inevitable droplets of rain back up into the clouds that sent them. The only thing for it is to enjoy some of its most memorable moments, many of which come from Quigley: he brushes his teeth in ale, offers handy-dandy explainers of obscure jests, and feels somehow like the evening’s host, drawing the audience into a comedy that’s lost some of its jokes but none of its central poignancy.’
So if you’re after something a bit more light-hearted as lockdown eases, buckle up for an Elizabethan sex comedy from the Thames Valley.
‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is streaming for free from 7pm BST tonight (Mon Jun 1) on the Globe’s YouTube channel. It’s available for two weeks.
See what else is coming up in the programme of free-to-stream plays from Shakespeare’s Globe.
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Take a look at the National Theatre’s mega-popular At Home free streaming series.