The Festival Players Return This Year with The Merry Wives of Windsor

Acclaimed Festival Players Theatre Company tours the country this summer with a dynamic all-male outdoor production of Shakespeare’s feast of farce – The Merry Wives of Windsor

Shakespeare is the nation’s (arguably the world’s) greatest playwright and The Festival Players Theatre Company is proud to present The Merry Wives of Windsor, the only one of his comedies to be set in England. This theatre company from Gloucestershire, which has been touring professional outdoor Shakespeare productions for over 30 years, is taking the play across the UK and into Europe from May 13th – August 29th.

Presented in full costume, an all-male company brings the fun of this the most farcical of all of Shakespeare’s plays, bustling with colourful characters and full of intrigues and physical gags, in a crystal-clear and fast-paced 2-hour production.

The players will perform 75 shows over the summer across England, Scotland, Wales and the Isles of Scilly, and as far afield as Belgium, Berlin, the Netherlands and Norway, at an increasingly varied number of locations from stately homes to London commons, Scottish castles to English village greens, island botanical gardens to Roman amphitheatres.

The story centres on Falstaff, the ‘Fat Knight’ who also appears in Henry IV as drinking buddy of young Prince Henry. Indeed, in 1602 it was referred to as ‘a most pleasant and excellent comedy of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor’. Down on his luck and staying in Windsor, the roguish and foolish Falstaff plans to seduce not one but two married women so he can get his hands on their husbands’ money. However, the wiley wives of Windsor prove more than a match for him in this hilarious comedy. The play has less verse than any of Shakespeare’s other plays, around only 12%, but this has not stopped it from being the subject of several operas including Falstaff by Antonio Salieri (1799), Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1893), and Sir John in Love by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1929).

Festival Players Artistic Director Michael Dyer has brought the play to a manageable length of 2 hours in the company’s trademark accessible format. Says Dyer: “Our shows are an amalgam of energy, entertainment and colour and we aim to make them clear and transparent, as well as keeping them short for the comfort of our patrons. We set out to take audiences of all ages on a journey and make them feel very much part of the production.”

A small cast of six play multiple roles demanding quick costume changes, as well as performing as singers and musicians. This gives an exciting opportunity for the actors to show their energy and versatility. It will be directed by Worcestershire based Dyer, former director of Cornwall’s Minack Open Air Theatre.

This will be Dyer’s 13th all-male production in a row for the Players. “It is of course totally authentic - we are following in the footsteps of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theatre when all roles were taken by men. The Players has built a reputation for strong, all-male shows over the past twelve years.”

Stratford-based actor Mark Spriggs is returning to the company this summer. In last year’s tour of Hamlet he played Claudius, and in 2015 he was a memorable Falstaff in Henry IV. The Festival Players Theatre Company is delighted that he will once again become the glorious figure of fun that is Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most beloved creations. Falstaff is boisterous, lively, cowardly and funny, but is also a scoundrel and occasionally a thief. According to theatrical legend, Queen Elizabeth I so liked the character in Henry IV that she commanded William Shakespeare to write another play with him in it, showing him ‘in love’. The Merry Wives of Windsor was the hilarious result.

Newcomers to the company this year are William Ross-Fawcett, Samuel Griffiths, Stephen Horncastle, Connor Reed and Paul Valentine.

Music has been specially written for The Merry Wives of Windsor by folk star Johnny Coppin (front man of the cult Seventies folk-rock group Decameron). Gloucestershire-based Coppin, who regularly tours the folk and acoustic circuit, adds a special ingredient with his original songs and instrumentals involving all the cast.