Bawdy wit and 
upper class antics in one merry play

Sarah Widdas as Mistress Ford and Benedict O'Donohoe as Sir John Falstaff
Sarah Widdas as Mistress Ford and Benedict O'Donohoe as Sir John Falstaff

The Merry Wives of 
Windsor, The Old Priory, Lewes, Wednesday, July 16

The Synergy Theatre has extended the venues for their annual outdoor Shakespeare production.

This year, under David Parton’s tireless direction, they have performed in the historic Crouch Gardens, Seaford; the Old Priory, Lewes; and on the Village Green, Kingston. To undertake the Bard in such traditional fashion is no mean feat for a small local group with limited resources.

Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, this play epitomises the bawdy wit, mistaken identity and upper-class antics much loved by Tudor audiences.

Set in ‘royal’ Windsor, two well-heeled families, indulge themselves at the expense of Sir John Falstaff, a “fat knight”.

In this role, around whom the play revolves, Benedict O’Donohoe was not so much the obese, drunken old lecher sometimes portrayed, but more a self-satisfied worthy hell-bent on seducing the wives of wealthy Mr Page (Peter Linsdell) and jealous Mr Ford (Josh Impey).

At a time when writing long letters expressing undying love was the norm, his antics might now be akin to sending romantic messages on the internet!

Charlotte Tayler and Sarah Widdas as the Wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, alerted to his intentions, enter wholeheartedly into the scheming and their girlish collaboration, especially when conspiring to hide Sir John in a basket of dirty washing to avoid recognition by their husbands, was a scene worthy of Absolutely Fabulous.

As the Page’s daughter, Anne, Isabella McCarthy Somerville was charming and believable. The same applied to Chris Church as Slender, her foppish, would-be suitor.

Added to the mix were Welsh clergyman, Sir Hugh Evans (Michael Farrall), and French physician, Dr Caius (David Parton), whose contrasting mannerisms highlighted the Elizabethan love of a good mickey-take.

Although some doubling-up of male roles was necessary – Daisy Milner as Pistol and Fenton, despite the gender difference – it was convincing and amusing. Attempting to bring some semblance of order to the match-making, Mistress Quickly (Samantha Macefield) found her well-expressed intentions thwarted at every turn.

This was an authentic performance of a lovable romp, which twinkled like a star on a balmy summer’s evening.

By Roger Paine