The Merry Wives

May 24-28

The Merry Wives

Liverpool Playhouse

https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/

4*

The plot thickens…so much so that it is really quite hard to describe this play but always very easy to appreciate Northern Broadsides as they make merry, putting heart and soul into the production. So here goes: along with suitors competing for the hand of Ann Page, Sir John Falstaff has set his

sights on Mistress Ford and/or Mistress Page, but then they decide to make mischief and have their revenge on the cheeky bounder.

Now, why this should be transplanted to the 1920s, I have no idea though I did like the stylized Art Nouveau trees, the minimal set clad with a few seats, a fairground tent and of course, an enormous laundry basket. Costume meanwhile ranges from cricket whites and elegant frocks via some florid attire for Sir John and even more so for Jos Vantyler’s Slender, a sulky to the point of emo teenager, to the fairies’ pyjama game, or rather, bizarre baby doll, scene.

Everybody hams it up so much it’s a wonder there isn’t a distinct odour of roast pork, in particular, Mark Stratton as the Host with the most and Andy Cryer, having the gall to play Doctor Caius with what he fondly imagines is panache, while Ben Burman as Pistol evidently thought he was auditioning for ‘Peaky Blinders’, accent notwithstanding. But as for the ladies, Helen Sheals was amazing as Mistress Quickly, busybodying here, there and everywhere whilst Nicola Sanderson and Becky Hindley created a superb double act as Mesdames Page and Ford.

Rutter, obviously, was born to play Falstaff but equal honours go to Andrew Vincent’s Frank Ford as he painfully learns the error of his ways. However, by comparison, Sarah Eve and Adam Barlow, as Ann Page and Fenton, were in danger of paling into insignificance. Similarly, the play kind of falters to a stop then reboots to conclude with vibrant song and dance; usually a trademark of Northern Broadside, though surprisingly missing on this occasion. And as you like it or not, Shakespeare comedies, and some tragedies, sometimes include scenes which lack rhyme and reason; just one example: Master Page showing off his learning, but as with the rest of the play, the company put their highest endeavours to extracting every bit of humour, as did the theatre staff at one point where health and safety issues threatened.

Oh, you had to be there, you really did – three cheers for Northern Broadsides (cocktails if you have them, and yes, that is a hint). Yet again, a palpable hit, as somebody once said.

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