Bill Alexander's bold production updated the action from the 1590s to the 1950s, complete with hairdryers, a cocktail cabinet and Morris Minor car.

Two women in curlers are seated in a hairdressing salon, just in front of hairdryers, comparing letters
Plotting under the hairdryer: Meg Page (Janet Dale) and Alice Ford (Lindsay Duncan) in The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1985, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC Browse and license our images


Bill Alexander’s radically updated production launched the 1985 season at Stratford-upon-Avon. Instead of setting the play in the Tudor period, Alexander opted for the late 1950s.


The era was later characterised by Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s 1957 statement that "most of our people have never had it so good". Director Alexander believed that there was a clear parallel between the social aspirations of the 1590s and the 1950s.


Michael Billington thought the production was "an exuberant piece of social satire", Guardian, April 1985, in which the bourgeoisie (the Fords and Pages) exacted revenge on the decadent aristocracy (Falstaff).


Bill Alexander wasn't afraid to re-shape the play's structure: "the wives first meet under the hairdryers. Sir Hugh give William his Latin lesson while hanging about a bus stop...the Garter becomes a general meeting place...where Falstaff entertains the disguised Ford while other characters drop in to advance the plot over gin and tonics on their way back to their suburban nests."  Irving Wardle, The Times, 4 April 1985.


Designer William Dudley created a revolving set which cleverly exploited the technical resources of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as scenes literally zoomed in and out. The stage was dominated by a large maypole decorated with Michelin men and AA signs, which revolved to indicate key scenes. The mock-Tudor Garter Inn was all fake wood panelling, while Herne's Oak was reduced to a stump with a Ministry of Works sign beside it.

The Merry Wives of Windsor_ 1985_ set diagram_1985_Designed by William Dudley_ image _c_ RSC_257546
Detail from the 1:25 scale diagram of William Dudley's set for The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1985, Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Designed by William Dudley © RSC Browse and license our images


The winning combination of inventive direction and imaginative design ensured that the updated setting was successful with both audiences and reviewers.

The production was recognised at the Laurence Oliver Awards for 1986/87, when Bill Alexander and William Dudley won Director of the Year and Designer of the Year, respectively.


In the following galleries you can explore two key scenes in production photos and extracts from the Prompt Book:

  • Act 2 Scene 1 - Meg Page and Alice Ford compare their letters from Falstaff
  • Act 4 Scene 2 - Jealous Frank Ford searches the laundry basket for Falstaff
Theatrical poster in 1950s cartoon style showing check-suited fat moustached man running away from a blond and dark women and an urban crowd in pursuit



Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Bruce Alexander – Hugh Evans

Peter Barrett - Child

Donna Basson - Child

Russell Boulter - John

David Bradley – Dr Caius

Richard Conway – Man in Street

Janet Dale – Meg Page

Lindsay Duncan – Alice Ford

Penelope Freeman - Barmaid

Silas Gregory - Child

Nicky Henson – Frank Ford

Tony Higgins – Robin (alt)

Brian Horstead - Nym

Rachel Humphries - Child

Roger Hyams - Robert

Peter Jeffrey – Sir John Falstaff

Trevor Martin - Host of the Garter

Paul McGreevey - Child

Rachel McLauchlin - Child

Justin Meads – Robin (alt)

Francine Morgan – Anne Page

Campbell Morrison - Pistol

Mike Murray - Bardolph

Amelia Newey - Child

Craig Priestley - Child

Lynn Randerson - Child

Mark Randerson - Child

Penny Ryder- Woman in Street

Sandford, Michael – William Page (alt)

Hugh Simon - Teddy Boy

Paul Spence - Fenton

Sheila Steafel – Mistress Quickly

Nicholas Storr - Child

Timothy Sullivan - William Page (alt)

Nicola Swash - Child

Ian Talbot – Abraham Slender

Graham Turner – Peter Simple

Sarah Turner - Child

David Wadham - Child

Louise Wallington - Child

Liane Webb - Child

Paul Webster – George Page

Alexander Wilson - Rugby

Daniel Wilson - Child

Arnold Yarrow – Justice Shallow




Director – Bill Alexander

Designer – William Dudley

Lighting Designer – Leo Leibovici

Sound Designer - Bob Burnell

Movement – Anthony Van Laast

Music – Jeremy Sams


The RSC's archive is held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. You can visit the Library and Archives there to look at production related information, including photos, videos of shows and stage management documents:

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive homepage

You can search the RSC catalogue here: 

RSC performance database

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