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Theatre Review For this (comic) relief, much thanks

GORDON PARSONS is glad to have his mind taken off the election by a perfectly pitched farce

The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

 

SHAKESPEARE is notable for spicing his tragedies with touches of comedy and, conversely, his comedies with tragic grace notes. Right on key with our ongoing election shenanigans, the RST launches arguably the playwright’s only true farce.

Blanche McIntyre knows that the essence of successful farce depends on pace and timing and her perfectly pitched production carries the play’s well-worked content of what were, even for the Bard, old gulling jokes with confident energy.

But even this wouldn’t work without a team of actors who can handle the improbabilities of the plot convincingly.

A play that could be set at any time and any place centres on the attempts by the ebullient aging roue, Falstaff, to mend his failing fortunes by seducing the wives of prosperous Windsor locals. Inevitably they prove a match for the corpulent knight, leading to his suffering a series of hilariously painful punishments. 

Here John Hodgkinson’s delightfully self-assured, fat fraud is supported by a superb cast including Samantha Spiro and Siuban Harrson as the gaily scheming wives and notably Richard Goulding as a self-torturing jealous husband – a kind of caricatured dry run for Othello. The main action is supplemented by conventionally burlesqued French doctor (Jason Thorpe) and a Welsh parson (Ian Hughes) mangling the English language and engaging in a comic duel.

Set Designer Robert Innes Hopkins provides a marvellously flexible context for a play which, uniquely for Shakespeare, does not have to be about anything other than the comic foibles of human beings.

Audiences will leave the theatre after some truly comic relief to face the much more serious farce in the political roundabout outside.

Runs until September 7. Box Office 01789 331 111, rsc.org.uk

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