Women on top

'Setting the attractions of my good parts aside, I have no other charms'

Director Henry Morris on why he chose The Merry Wives of Windsor for our 2019 production

The Merry Wives has things in common with sitcom: a cast of overdrawn stereotypes embroiled in episodes from which they learn nothing, and a spin-off from another show – Falstaff, the fat knight from Henry IV. Think Joey from Friends or Frasier from Cheers, but commissioned by God’s representative on earth rather than studio execs. I’ve wanted to direct the play since opening it five years ago and finding myself laughing out loud.

The Merry Wives is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays to have been set in contemporary Elizabethan England. It is led by a cast of strong, spirited, fun women who celebrate womanhood rather than men’s expectations of it. When we meet Falstaff he is short of friends and down on his luck; that doesn’t stop him breezing into Windsor with hopes of the simultaneous seduction of two married women for financial advantage. The formidable Mistresses Page and Ford are having none of it, however, and the Merry Wives turn the tables. The fun that ensues is underscored by a community of comic characters obsessed with their own social codes.

The play holds a mirror up to life and manners that will be familiar. Think unsubstantiated jealousy, inverted snobbery, social awkwardness, bureaucratic incompetence, and, of course, keeping up with Joneses. With a finale of spectacular rural magic that the grass-topped stones of St Dogmaels Abbey could have been demolished for, this play celebrates human eccentricities in ways that will have laughter ringing out under the Pembrokeshire night sky.

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