Mistress Alice Ford (played by Claire Carrie) and Mistress Meg Page (Lucy Tregear) are the knowing Merry Wives who scheme to test their husbands' fidelity and to marry off delectable daughter Anne Page to the best suitor.
Their go-between is simple Mistress Quickly, played for laughs by Alison Fiske.
Claire Carrie (Mistress Ford) and Richard Cordery (Falstaff). © Royal Shakespeare Company/RSC. Photography by Manuel Harlan.
Apart from the husbands the male roles are comic led by the portly but vain Sir John Falstaff (Richard Cordery), down on his luck and money and seeking a rich wife. It took me some time to adjust to the entertaining mannerisms of the French doctor and Welsh parson but I enjoyed the scenes where Falstaff hides in an outsize laundry basket and is thrown into the Thames. Comic country bumpkins from Gloucestershire and Falstaff's ruffian sidekicks complete the cast. The setting of post WW2 austerity did not really add much to the production except for the 40s costumes of the wives.
The plot and counterplots develop carefully like a house of cards and the whole collapses in the second half with a roistering encounter at Halloween in Windsor's woods of all the characters with elves, fairies and witches and a disguised Falstaff. He is finally ridiculed, hopeful suitors find they have been tricked and Anne Page is carried off by her true love. Finally the husbands are reunited with their Merry Wives and one supposes they live happily ever after – or until the next whiff of suspicion of infidelity.
• Old Vic Theatre