Oxford Shakespeare Company is triumphantly back in beautiful Wadham gardens with The Merry Wives of Windsor, a tale of formidable women and thwarted fornication reimagined as a sundown prank-fest at a proper English Fête, complete with tea, tombola, and the ukulele orchestra of Windsor and Eton. Slightly bewildered by the beautiful weather, the village worthies set out to teach fat, bankerish, pinstripe-clad Falstaff a lesson in rural virtues, while keeping a tight eye on the cakes and prize-winning marrows.
Katharine Bennett-Fox plays a beautiful, brittle Mistress Ford, a perfect balance of lipstick and British repression, while her husband (David Kechnie) is the picture of a Britflick jealous man with his red trousers, facial gymnastics and frantic squirming. Meanwhile the Pages, a blissfully bumpkinesque Rob Witcomb and a fabulously over-the-top Sarah Goddard stamp on in Barbour, tweed and wellies, determined to sensibly marry off their beautiful daughter Anne (an utterly charming Rachel Waring) who is in the terrible state of being the only girl in the village. Local posh boy Fenton has his own plans for Anne, and the smugly satisfied rural idyll is soon raucous with dirty jokes and inappropriate wooing.
The small cast makes for excellent doubling up especially Katherine Bennett-Fox flubbing signs and mangling rhymes as Pistol the hilariously incomprehensible hoodie. Heather Johnson waving her curlers and Hello magazine as Mistress Quickly is excellent. Falstaff himself (Jack Taylor) plays to his weight and charm, fearlessly stumbling from suit to towel to hide and horns, as the sun goes down, the fairy lights go on, and the action takes a Wicker Man-ish turn. This marvellous mash up of rom-coms, bunting and bad ideas never fails to charm and surprise. Look out for a surprisingly moving turn from a Punch and Judy panda, pressed into service as a go-between.