The first woman to direct The Merry Wives of Windsor for the RSC, Rachel Kavanaugh set this entertaining comedy in the 1940s.

A younger woman sits anxiously on a laundry basket as an older man in white trousers and navy blazer exposes one leg under her skirt
Falstaff (Richard Cordery) woos Alice Ford (Claire Carrie), The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2002, Swan Theatre
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images


Kavanaugh's sparkling production was set in England just after the end of the Second World War. This was a period of considerable social change, echoing the uncertainties of Elizabeth I's later reign when the play was written.


Dress, speech and even what people drank were used to signal class distinctions. “Falstaff and his companions look as though they’ve just been demobbed… Page and Ford are bowler-hatted commuters on the Windsor line; their wives got up in tight little jackets and flared skirts” Patrick Carnegy, The Spectator, 7 December 2002.


The production opened at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 31 October 2002, an appropriate date since Falstaff's final humiliation at Herne's Oak was set during Halloween. Paired with Kavanaugh's production of Coriolanus, in 2003 the show toured the regions before transferring to the Old Vic, London.


Richard Cordery was "a superbly mountainous Falstaff...tramping the stage...stuffed with language as his body is packed with fat" Jeremy Kingston, The Times, 2 November 2002. The production also had real pyschological depth exemplified by Tom Mannion's Frank Ford "judging the comedy of his paranoia with pinpoint precision" Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times, November 2002.


The production needed to be mobile to play in touring venues, so Ti Green's stage design was basically a continuation of the Swan Theatre. In the production photo below, you can see how the simple wooden frame with jettied windows seems to be part of the Swan Theatre's gallery.
Because not all touring venues had a trap, down which the fat knight could disappear, the laundry basket containing Falstaff needed to be carried off-stage by two very strong actors playing the parts of the servants John and Robert.

A policeman blowing his whistle leads a posse of townsfolk as they chase some-one across the stage
The chase is on, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2002, Swan Theatre
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images
Theatrical programme for The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2002, featuring fashion drawings of two 1940s women, on in fur coat and one in pale coat and matching hat



Swan Theatre

Kate Best – Lady of Windsor

Claire Carrie – Alice Ford

Florence Carruthers - Child (alt)

Ben Chase - Fairy (alt)

Daniel Ciotkowski - William Page (alt)

Simon Coates – George Page

Richard Copestake - Nym

Richard Cordery – Sir John Falstaff

Lindsey Fawcett - Robin

Alison Fiske – Mistress Quickly

Michael Gardiner – Sir Hugh Evans

Greg Hicks – Dr Caius

Chuk Iwuji - Fenton

Kieron Jecchinis - John

David Jowett - William Page (alt)

Adam Kay – Abraham Slender

David Killick – Robert Shallow

Tom Mannion – Frank Ford

Ciaran McIntyre - Bardolph

Karl Morgan – Peter Simple

James O'Donnell – John Rugby

Patrick Romer - Host of the Garter

Damian Storey - Green Fairy (alt)

Lucy Tregear – Meg Page

Edward Turner - White Ghost (alt)

Jake Whittingham - White Ghost (alt),

Hannah Young – Anne Page




Director – Rachel Kavanaugh

Designer – Peter McKintosh

Staging Designer - Ti Green

Lighting Designer – Hartley T A Kemp

Sound Designer - Gregory Clarke

Movement – Scarlett Mackmin

Music – Terry Davies


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

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