Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester
June 18 - August 30, 2021; 90min (no interval)
Jessica Dives, Perry Moore, Howard Chadwick (foreground) as Falstaff and Suzanne Ahmet as Mistress Page in the Grosvenor Park Falstaff. Pics: Ant Clausen Photography
It’s party time and the champagne is flowing, and everyone is in the mood for love, spelt S.E.X, in the latest Grosvenor Park summer extravaganza. There is much thrusting of hips and other suggestive behaviour - but it's all, as someone once said, in the best possible taste.
Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy features the irrepressible Falstaff, (Howard Chadwick) down on his luck and penniless, keen to make his fortune by making love to two “merry wives”. One is Mistress Page (Suzanne Ahmet), the other Mistress Ford, (Victoria Brazier), but his real plan is to expose their infidelity to their husbands (Perry Moore and Darren Kuppan respectively) in return for payment.
Falstaff employs an old ally, Mistress Quickly (Jessica Dives, also the musical director) to act as go-between, delivering love letters to both women, requesting clandestine meetings.
Unfortunately for Falstaff, the women quickly realise what he is up to and decide to take revenge. Their gulling of Falstaff is the highlight of the evening as he is doubly humiliated: first by having to hide in a rubbish bin which is then dumped in the river (off stage!); then by being forced to dress as the Woman of Brentford, a renowned old witch.
Add to this mix two jealous and neglectful husbands and the runaway marriage of young lovers (Jenny Murphy and Jessica Dives) and you have comedic gold.
The two wives, both strong female characters, dominate this lively production directed by John Young. Falstaff is portrayed as a swaggering old fool, blind to his own lack of sexual charm and the traps being set for him.
And as always in the Grosvenor Park shows, music plays a key role, so here we have popular songs of love, lust and strong women to echo the play’s themes and keep everything lively. It doesn’t seem to matter that Shakespeare’s dialogue gets a bit mangled or that Mistress Page shouts her lines in a broad Essex accent. It’s all part of the fun of this romp of a play.
More information and tickets here