The Merry Wives of Windsor

It's one of Shakespeare's lesser played comedies, but The Merry Wives of Windsor is probably the most relatable of the bards collection.

Featuring Sir John Falstaff (the only character to be used in two different plays, due to Queen Elizabeth I being so enamoured with the character), it sees him send love notes to two wives (Mistress Page and Mistress Ford) in order to seduce them. Unfortunately for him, they discover his plan and turn on him, planning revenge and outing him for the cad that he is. Meanwhile, Anne (Mistress Page's daughter) is being pursued by three very different suitors for her hand in marriage. Mistress Quickly is being paid by all three to gain favour. The story culminates in Falstaff heading for his final punishment involving a deer and fairies and Anne marrying one successful suitor.

This is definitely a less glamourous Shakespearean tale. There are no Kings, Queens or court jesters to begin with. There is also talk of everyday activities, with references to baking, cleaning and laundry. 

John Hodgkinson plays Sir John Falstaff with a great mix of sleazy and misogyny, we even felt a bit sorry for him in the end, as realisation hits him. Siubhan Harrison as Mistress Alice Ford and Samantha Spiro as Mistress Meg Page have a very natural rapport and work well as the two Windsor wives plotting against Falstaff. Their ability to show the female agency at its strongest when showing men just how ridiculous they are behaving is just perfect.

Shazia Nicholls as Mistress Quickly is a very strong storyteller, as she weaves herself between each of the other characters stories. Meeting their demands, yet focusing on her own gains throughout. Patrick Walshe McBride as Slender and Jason Thorpe as Dr Caius (two of Anne's suitors) are hilariously portrayed. Two completely different characterisations, but equally enamoured by the audience who clearly delighted in their performances.

The set and costume design by Robert Innes Hopkins is delightful (lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth is equally enthralling), the centre piece adapting with each scene change on a revolve and various items of furniture appearing and disappearing through the floor of the stage. The Oak tree in the final scene having a subtle nod to the simplistic suburbia, yet small imperfections of life (no spoilers, see if you can spot it!).

Overall, this is without a doubt a sublime and thoroughly entertaining piece, directed by Blanche McIntyre. The movement is well choreographed by Ingrid Mackinnon and it's such an easy piece to follow you don't need to be familiar with the story before you go. 

It's truly one of our favourite pieces from The RSC in recent times.  A merry mix of female power and male foolishness!

This show was reviewed on the 12th June 2024 at The RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon where it runs until the 7th September 2024.  Tickets available here: The Merry Wives of Windsor | Royal Shakespeare Company (

Review written by Rachel Louise Martin


Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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