How to pinch the uncling knight



SPARE stag in the Windsor forest: Pearce Quigley is Falstaff in Elle While’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photograph courtesy of The Guardian.

HE’S FAT, HE’S lecherous and full of wind and his own sense of potency. This is Sir John Falstaff (Pearce Quigley), who takes centre stage in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the Globe’s free youtube offering this fortnight. It’s a veritable soap opera of intrigue, malice and lust, magnificently directed by Elle While with a hefty dash of 1920s swing, a cacophony of accents and genders and humour that is ignited by rude innuendo, tricks and balances.

While there’s a whiff of Caravaggio’s 1595 painting of Bacchus in Hedydd Dylan’s interpretation of the cleric, Sir Hugh Evans, which gets ramped and camped up all the way as the play unfolds, and a lexicon of nasty monikers for fat people, this play which relishes political incorrectness, is almost a laugh-a-minute farce. It’s a strange thing because if you read the work’s plot, your eyes may glaze over at the utter lumpen silliness of the trickery which involves a goodly dollop of slapstick with a big man tossed into the Thames in a basket of dirty laundry, before he’s caught traipsing around in a frock – and later, in a set of horns made of chicken legs. The Globe team of this 2019 production bring the humour to the fore, enabling guffaws from even the young ‘groundlings’ in the theatre.

With Mistresses Page (Sarah Finigan) and Ford (Bryony Hannah) in the cross hairs of Falstaff’s lust, however, the intrigue is enriched with complicated double crossing, and acts of honesty in the guise of lies. The work, ultimately a delicious moral tale about the dangers of excess, stretches the performers to the hilt: the fairies’ dance at the end of the work sees members of the cast in magnificent voice, and with the brass band in the balcony, replete with not one but two tubas, the work is a delightful concatenation of values which are sharply articulate, but redolent with the classic pribbles and prabbles of Elizabethan wit.

And while Boadicea Ricketts plays an extraordinary Anne Page, who is the beautiful love interest in the work, with a meaty sense of know-how that raises her character considerably from being a spot of saccharine, it is Quigley who you will gather around your screen to watch. A master of dead pan humour and audience asides, he will have your sides aching with compassion and ribaldry as he falls into emotional trap after emotional trap.

In short, this work is a total treat. It doesn’t compromise on the original and will eat up almost two hours and 30 minutes of your time, but rest assured, it will be time deliciously spent.

  • Merry Wives of Windsor is written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Elle While, for the Globe Theatre in London, and directed for screen by Ian Russell, it is performed by Patrick Ashe, Catherine Davies, Elyce Dowell, Hedydd Dylan, Sarah Finigan, KC Gardiner, Bryony Hannah, Jimmy Hodges, Richard Katz, Joshua Lacey, Eamon Martin, Forbes Masson, Anne Odeke, Jude Owusu, Lee Philips, Pearce Quigley, Anita Reynolds, Boadicea Ricketts, Lauren Anika Spence, Andrew Sterne, Stephen Teelan, Dickon Tyrrell and Zach Wyatt, with live music under the direction of Fred Thomas (piano), Dave Shulman (clairinet), Lucy Landymore (drums), Tom Dennis (trumpet) and Andy Kershaw and Ed Neuhauser (tuba) , and creative input by Charlie Cridlan (production design), Frank Moon (composer), Sasha Milavic Davies (choreography), Philip d’Orléans (fight choreography), Laura Rushton (costume supervisor), Tess Dignan (voice) and Hazel Holder (accent coach). It is available on demand for free until June 14 on Shakespeare’s Globe’s youtube channel.

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