A chilly September evening is warmed and cheered by Kick In The Head’s coming to Brighton Open Air Theatre, bringing with them their new comedy, Much Ado About Falstaff, an extra chapter of an already roguish tale and a peek at the goings-on upstairs at The Boar’s Head, Eastcheap.
Unsurprisingly Falstaff is in trouble again, meeting hard times with his customary lack of responsibility and choosing instead to seek solace in ale and good company. Now, with creditors hammering at the door, he must rely upon the steadfast (if occasionally muddled) Mistress Quickly to save him from ruin.
Giles Shenton effortlessly embodies all that audiences have come to know and love of Sir John Falstaff. He commands the stage with epic, rousing speech peppered with asides that win the audience within the opening moments. Opposite him is Suzanna Walters, a fantastic Mistress Quickly. As frequently foul-mouthed and jocular as the knight himself she still yet manages to anchor him to reality and stop him wandering off into his own manufactured legacy.
There is a merry war betwixt the two that is waged throughout the show, showering the action with wit, smut and an entire arsenal of entendre. It is here that Simon Downing’s writing truly excels. His mastery of the language is indisputable and used to great effect, less an act of imitation and more a faithful homage to that bardic comic relief we look for in the comedies and long for in the tragedies. Quickly’s loose grasp of the English language often wrongfoots a Falstaff more accustomed to spilling forth a Trumpian spew of undigested thoughts and forming the crux of his arguments from the parts that sounded prettiest. Throughout the play there is no subject matter out of bounds and no level not to be stooped to – from friars to flatulence, soliloquies to sexual health and even the occasional jibe aimed at Shakespeare himself for good measure.
There are some more tender moments, particularly in the second half, and their scarcity renders them all the more poignant. A glimpse behind the mirth reveals a solemn figure reminiscing over days of long-gone glory and good times with old friends. Falstaff now languishes in his attempts to live up to his own legend, all the while his health is failing him. However, the sheer hope that Quickly manages to instil in both of them – of a new life and one more adventure now to be shared – is truly touching, especially with Quickly having so long watched her own aspirations pulled apart by the whims of those around her.
But for the most part, Much Ado About Falstaff is an evening of silliness that revels in its humour and wit, be it bardic wordplay or fart jokes. “More Shakespearean insults than ever previously heard on a theatrical stage” is undoubtedly correct and these often find themselves met with the sharp clap of a slapstick. Kick In The Head’s latest show is a dose of good, unclean fun that embodies the spirit of the Fat Knight himself. To be enjoyed by Shakespeare lovers and haters alike it is more than worthy of its place in the canon.
Brighton Open Air Theatre, Wednesday 23rd September 2020