IF you have missed Northern Broadsides' grand tour of Yorkshire, taking The Merry Wives from Halifax to Hull, Leeds, Scarborough and Huddersfield, this week is your last chance this side of the Pennines to see director Barrie Rutter lead his cast of 16 through Shakespeare's "affectionately calamitous tale".

This is the one where Sir John Falstaff, by now past his prime and skint, makes his comeback in what these days would be called a "comedy vehicle" for Shakespeare's largest larger-than-life character

. Maybe Queen Elizabeth I did request a play where "the fat Knight falls in love", or maybe she didn't, but there is no doubt the fat knight is on the prowl, looking for, if not love, then at least some slap and tickle with a comical clumsiness so familiar to Friday and Saturday nights on the Micklegate Run.

You will note the title has been shorn of Windsor, replaced by a Yorkshire country club of the 1920s in Lis Evans's delightful design, in a brash northern world where the principal sport is chasing women, with all the subtlety of a speeding Benny Hill. What's more, the women are fair game, reckons Rutter's vain rogue, Falstaff, as he tries out his blustering seduction technique on a pair of well-to-do but wily wives, Mistress Page (Nicola Sanderson) and Mistress Ford (Becky Hindley).

Rutter's Falstaff, kitted out in voluminous trousers, checked jacket and mustard waistcoat, is louder in his attire than he is in his demeanour, the once boisterous physical comedy now a little deflated, although he still dines out on the verbal vigour of Shakespeare's text.

York Press:

Northern Broadsides' Becky Hindley, Nicola Sanderson, Barrie Rutter, Gerard McDermott and Andrew Vincent in The Merry Wives. Picture: Nobby Clark

Playing Falstaff for the third time under the Broadsides banner, this is Rutter in veteran mode, the clouds greying, even if he can still put you in mind of a later bloated rogue, Mr Toad of Toad Hall, such are the indignities he brings on himself. The vestiges of Rutter having played King Lear last year go deeper than retaining long hair; his ageing Falstaff is full of wind and pitiably deluded.

Broadsides' publicity advised you to look no further "if you like your Shakespeare light, funny and wickedly entertaining" as they "poke a jovial finger in the eye of middle England". The comedy turns out to have a heavier-footed imprint; the company visibly works hard for its saucy laughs, always on the front foot, playing on the sporty setting at every opportunity with its naturally combative requirements. Rutter even equips himself with cricket pad protection and horns made of hockey and lacrosse sticks.

While fast and furious farce rules in the nudge-nudge manner of English sex comedies, Sanderson and Hindley are not so broad in their playing of Mistress Page and Mistress Ford; all the better for being one step ahead in their cunning counter-planning against the lustful Falstaff.

Being Broadsides, the company still has the energy for a jolly knees-up dance to Conrad Nelson's music at the close.

The Merry Wives, Northern Broadsides/New Vic Theatre, at York Theatre Royal, tonight until Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk