Simon Callow (pictured) will play Falstaff alongside Judi Dench’s Mistress Quickly in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s upcoming musical adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor. He takes over from Desmond Barrit, who has had to withdraw following a foot injury during rehearsals. Merry Wives The Musical, which will mark Callow’s RSC debut, opens on 12 December 2006 (previews from 2 December) and continues in rep until 10 February 2007 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the year-long Complete Works festival (See News, 21 Apr 2006).

RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran, who’s directing Merry Wives The Musical, said today: “We are all really sad that we have had to lose Des owing to his unfortunate injury, but relieved and delighted that Simon has agreed to step in and take on the role of Falstaff. I am sure that with his wealth of experience, he will relish the challenge of his somewhat late arrival to rehearsals.”

Callow added: “I am very excited to join this production with such a lovely cast. It will be my first role for the RSC and what a great one – not only playing Falstaff but getting the opportunity to sing and dance in the role as well!”

Callow made his stage musical debut last autumn playing Count Fosco in the West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White (See News, 1 Aug 2005), a part he also played in the BBC’s 1997 (non-musical) TV adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ Victorian novel. On screen, he also appeared in Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The actor is best known to theatregoers for his roles in myriad plays such as, most recently, Present Laughter, Through the Leaves, Holy Terror and The Mystery of Charles Dickens. His non-musical film credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bright Young Things and Shakespeare in Love.

The Merry Wives cast also features (See News, 13 Sep 2006): TV impressionist Alistair McGowan (as Frank Ford), Scarlett Strallen (Anne Page), Alexandra Gilbreath (Mistress Ford) and Haydn Gwynne (Mistress Page). Other roles will be played by Tobias Beer (Simple), Robert Burt (Host), Paul Chahidi (Dr Caius), Christopher Colley (Jack Rugby), Ian Conningham (Nym), Martin Crewes (Fenton), Jeffrey Dench (Shallow), Dominic Colchester (John), Rob Edwards (Page), Ian Hughes (Hugh Evans), Anna Lowe (Maid), Brendan O’Hea (Pistol), Ian Pirie (Bardolph), Simon Thomas (Robert), Lisa Thorner (Maid), Simon Trinder (Slender).

Directed and adapted by Gregory Doran, Merry Wives The Musical has music by Paul Englishby (who worked with Doran on The Tamer Tamed and All’s Well that Ends Well) and lyrics by Ranjit Bolt. The production is designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis with lighting by Tim Mitchell and movement by Michael Ashcroft.

According to Doran: “Merry Wives was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I in two weeks, so has always tended to be regarded as more of an entertainment than a finely crafted or poetic play. This makes it ideal for adapting and is probably why there have been so many versions, including operas, based on the story. This will be a celebratory, seasonal contribution to the Complete Works Festival and yet another way to visit Shakespeare, along with all the other versions that visiting companies have brought to the table.”

- by Terri Paddock