The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC Stratford, until September 22.
We first saw Merry Wives at Stratford back in 2006. It was brilliant. With Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly and Simon Callow as Sir John Falstaff, how could it be bettered? But this production, directed by Fiona Laird, managed it.
This is Shakespeare with a generous helping of Fawlty Towers, EastEnders and Monty Python stirred in, topped off with music and even some dance routines. Purists might be squeamish at the thought, but it worked brilliantly.
The tone was set even before the play got underway, with Queen Elizabeth instructing Shakespeare to write a play about Falstaff falling in love. We were hooked - and the evening took off like a roller coaster.
Rebecca Lacey as Mistress Page (played with more than a passing nod to Barbara Windsor's Peggy Mitchell) and Beth Cordingly as Mistress Ford stole the show. Their plotting revenge on the hapless Falstaff played brilliantly by a very well-padded David Troughton had the audience in stitches.
The text is adapted freely - I don’t think wheelie bins, barbecues and sun loungers featured in 16th century Windsor, but the audience loved it. David Acton as Sir Hugh Evans the Welsh Parson had us joining in a sing-song. Think Cardiff Arms Park, he told us. And the duel between him and the Doctor Caius (Jonathan Cullen), was pure slapstick.
Merry Wives of Windsor is a play for women. They are the prime movers of the comedy, holding centre stage and pulling the strings. The hostess of the garter, Katy Brittain was a reincarnated Sybil Fawlty right down to the hair style, and Karen Fishwick as Anne Page could have been a teenager straight out of Little Britain.
But the men were excellent too, playing up the laughs and clearly enjoying themselves.
Great performances all round in this thoroughly enjoyable, rip-roaring comedy.
Tickets from: www.rsc.org.uk
Pictured (left to right): Beth Cordingly, Ishia Bennison (Mistress Quickly) and Rebecca Lacey. Picture by Manuel Harlan, RSC