Janet Bird’s set in a wondrously complex thing of double revolves with a sort of Tudor dolls’ house plopped dead centre. The musicians, led by William Lyons and with a fascinating array of contemporary instruments, perch atop this, punctuating the action and providing sound effects. Beneath them, in formal gardens and open spaces as well as a variety of interiors, gambol the characters of the comedy.
Most of these, of course, are what we would now describe as middle-class – worthy townsfolk just that little bit wary of the court and its hangers-on when in residence at the castle or just at a loose end waiting for fortune to turn. Michael Garner is bluff Master Page, whose good nature shows its limits when his daughter’s suitors are concerned, and Andrew Havill makes Ford’s blinkered jealousy extremely funny and ultimately rather touching.
The young lovers are a sweet pair – Ceri-Lyn Cissone as Anne Page and Gerard McCarthy as Fenton. Bumbling around them are veteran Peter Gale as Shallow, Gareth Armstrong as parson Evans and Philip Bird as Dr Caius. Manipulating the entangled intrigues with considerable relish are Sue Wallace as Mistress Quickly and Jony Stephens as the Garter Inn host.
And then there are the title characters – Serena Evans plays Mistress Page and Sarah Woodward is Mistress Ford. They have great fun with their trickeries but you sense a sharp undertone also of rivalry beneath their friendship. Christopher Benjamin is Falstaff, decaying into greedy buffoonery as his attempts to woo the wives twists so awry. There were a couple of noticeable “fluffs” at the Norwich opening performance; repetition can led to lapses of concentration, alas.