July 16 2002
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Ludlow Castle
by David Adams

I don’t know what it was like your side of the Offa’s Dyke but in Ludlow it was the first clear night sky for ages – and watching open-air Shakespeare in pouring rain is not my idea of summer fun.

But more surprising than the lack of umbrellas was the sheer exuberant panache of this year’s Ludlow Festival production.

Even more surprising to find that this exceptionally enjoyable Shakespeare, at a venue renowned for its quality, was from a Welsh company.

There was nothing to say it was Welsh, but it was, from Phillip Madoc as the outrageous obese philanderer Falstaff to relative newcomer Morgan Rhys, who managed to make an impression even in the relatively small role of Fenton, the wooer of the sexy daughter of one of those Merry Wives.

The reason that it has a Welsh cast is Michael Bogdanov, Wales’ most eminent theatre director and the man in charge of this year’s Ludlow production.

It’s also the reason why this is a piece of accessible Shakespeare, delightfully inventive, an energetic version of what is far from one of the Bard’s best works that succeeds because of the ensemble playing which also allows for actors to do their own thing.

Hence the ever-excellent but under-rated maverick Russell Gomer was nearly allowed to steal the show as the maniacally jealous husband. That’s despite the presence in the cast of that other inspired performer Dorien Thomas, who makes the French Dr Caius a lot more than is in the script.

Indeed the cream of Welsh theatre was here in Ludlow,

'Merry Wives of Windsor Cast' Ludlow 2002
Bill 3rd from left 2nd row

many getting the chance to excel in a way that sometimes has only been hinted at before – Nickie Rainsford and Kath Dimery as the scheming wives, Adrienne O’Sullivan as the buxom Mistress Quickly, Ray Llewellyn as the mischievous JP Shallow, Bill Bellamy as the boring George Page, Simon Armstrong as the host of the Star and Garter, Brendan Charleson as Bardoph.

And let’s hope that we see more of Mr Rhys and, indeed, Eve Myles, who made his young fiancée Ann a beautifully randy teenager.

In fact, what we should be demanding is that this superb show, easily one of the best Welsh Shakespeare productions that I have seen, gets a tour in Wales itself.

Mind you, it would probably rain.