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

3.00

 

Desmond Barrit was a magnificent Falstaff for the RSC back in 2000 when Michael Attenborough staged the two parts of Henry IV and he garnered yet more rapturous raves when he reprised the role for Peter Hall last year in Bath. 

Any fear that this lovely actor might have been tempted to hang up his padded girth for good after that is joyously dispelled now by Phillip Breen's entertaining – if sometimes a touch laboured – main-stage modern-dress revival at Stratford of The Merry Wives of Windsor. 

The way the play anticipates contemporary sitcom with its social-climbing middle-classes, its conviction that foreigners are, by definition, idiotic, and its slapstick farce triggered by a frantically jealous husband, is winningly alive.

There are occasions, though, when the show tries too hard on this front. For example, a sub-plot hoax about the imminent arrival of a Teutonic duke results in the stubbornly unfunny idea of a German “theme”-night at the Garter Inn. And with a three-hour running time, it can feel a rather exhausting as well as an exhaustive account of the piece.    

But if Anita Dobson becomes faintly monotonous with the mechanical bustle of her Mistress Quickly, the rest of the principals are on terrific form. Alexandra Gilbreath's nouveau riche, impishly naughty Alice Ford is amusingly contrasted with the solid “county” quality of Sylvestra Le Touzel's Meg Page. 

The latter gets a big laugh when she delivers the line about her husband -“He's as far from jealousy as I am from giving him cause” - with an air of plaintive regret, almost as though she envies Alice her barmily suspicious, but at least attentive, spouse. 

John Ramm is hilariously obsessive and off-the-scent as Ford, scrabbling like a frantic dog in the laundry basket and obliviously ranting on with a dirty bra in hand when he fails to find his quarry.

Falstaff's potty belief that he is attractive to women is conveyed in the hysterical, groin-rubbing solemnity with which Barrit grooves to a raunchy Marvin Gaye record in an attempt to seduce Alice. 

But his splendid performance manages to be both side-splitting about the misplaced conceit and the repeated ignominious discomfitures while projecting the sense of a strangely unhumiliated hinterland. He may lie down as if in his grave at the end, but the puff of cigar smoke that rises from it suggests that it's too early for wreaths.

To Jan 12; 0844 800 1110

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week