Hooray for this glorious weather, not least because it provides a welcome respite to the Oxford Shakespeare Company after several years of being thoroughly rained on during their productions.

On a sunlit evening in the gardens of Wadham College, I happily watched their latest show, The Merry Wives of Windsor, yet I would have kept warm whatever the weather because I was laughing so much throughout the show — this is a very funny production. It is not one of the more frequently staged of Shakespeare’s plays, so I was pleased to have an opportunity to see it again, and am delighted to report that it’s the most enjoyable version I’ve ever attended. This is partly due to the lively pace throughout and because they have seasoned the show with some clever contemporary references and great musical interludes from the cast — supplied by musical directors James D Reid and Nick Lloyd Webber.

Maybe this is not one for the textural purists, but audiences who enjoy theatricality will have a great time. The plot follows the misadventures of Sir John Falstaff who, amongst several other suitors, wants to wed beautiful heiress Anne. Low on funds he decides to seduce two affluent local women, Mistresses Ford and Page and steal money from them. This is all doomed to failure as the two friends show his identical love-letters to each other, and proceed to plan an elaborate revenge. Intertwined with this central plot are several other intrigues involving the suitors, jealous husbands and various comic characters, providing lots of laughs along the way.

The main reason why this Merry Wives is so outstandingly funny is because of the wit and energy of the whole cast, in particular Heather Johnson as quirky Mistress Quickly, wickedly sharp Mistresses Ford and Page by Katherine Bennett-Fox and Sarah Goddard, and a quite bonkers Mr Ford from David McKechnie. But the highlight for me was the brilliant performance of Falstaff by Jack Taylor — I’ve never seen this role done better. Even though Falstaff is a bounder, by the end of all his trials and humiliations you just love him to bits.

Director Gemma Fairlie has brought together a very successful production full of charm and humour. Setting the action at a typical English garden fete, which then seamlessly turns into a spooky wood, was genius. It’s simply a perfect evening out for all ages.\


Wadham College Gardens
Until August 16
Tickets: 01865 305305