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Picture of the Month - November 2012

In 1985, the RSC staged a wonderfully funny Merry Wives, directed by Bill Alexander and set in 1959, a period often referred to as the “New Elizabethan Age”.

Helen Hargest
Merry Wives of Windsor 1985
Two wives hatching their plot to outwit Falstaff after exchanging letters under the hair-driers.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has opened its Winter 2012 season with a new production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Directed by Philip Breen, it is set in the present, in a year in which Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. Much has been written about the production’s over complicated set, which resulted in the play opening 3 nights later than originally planned. In 1985, the RSC staged a wonderfully funny Merry Wives, directed by Bill Alexander. Set in 1959, a period often referred to as the “New Elizabethan Age”, the designer, William Dudley used the revolve stage to great effect, delivering striking period interiors such as the 1950’s suburban semi complete with bay window, a radiogram and a cocktail cabinet. An open top Morris Minor also featured, transporting Slender and Shallow and chauffeured by Peter Simple. A strong cast included Nicky Henson as the “horn-mad” Ford and Peter Jeffrey as his adversary, the “clubbable” Falstaff, in plus-fours, yellow waistcoat and golf shoes (Michael Coveney; Financial Times 6/4/1985).

The merry wives; Meg Page (Janet Dale) and Alice Ford (Lindsay Duncan), were played as brassy, cigarette-smoking, gin-slugging jokesters” (John Barber, The daily Telegraph 6/4/1085). One of the funniest scenes is featured above, and shows the two women hatching their plot to outwit Falstaff after exchanging letters under the hair-driers, before teetering off on their stiletto heels. Bill Alexander, the director, wanted his merry wives to be "spiky and rather tasteless, quite cruel in their judgement.” (Ralph Berry; On Directing Shakespeare). Joe Cock’s photograph conveys these characteristics convincingly and it became the show's iconic image.