The Merry Wives of Windsor – Theatre Review

Photo by David Blue

Thursday night I set out to enjoy Vancouver’s famous Bard on the Beach.  A comedy from Shakespeare was on the studio stage, The Merry Wives of Windsor and I was ready to laugh.

Director Johnna Wright, who has won numerous awards in her field, transports us to Windsor, Ontario 1968. Wright chose this time period because similar to Elizabethan England the 60’s were full of change and growth. It doesn’t hurt that it also made the costume designer’s job easier by dressing everyone in the current hipster trend that is so popular here.

Regardless, the costume and set design were well done and I’m always a fan of updating Shakespeare. It makes it more accessible and highlights that although everyone is speaking in an old fashioned manner, the desires that drive the characters are not all that different from now.

The show is about Sir John Falstaff (Ashley Wright) a fat, aging British knight who comes to a small town nearly penniless and devises a scheme to seduce and steal from two local married ladies. However the ladies are told of the plan and proceed to set their own trap in motion. It also tells the story of the suitors of Miss Anne Page (Kayla Deorksen) which in true Shakespearean style is full of scheming, duels, mistaken identities and of course true love.

The whole show has 60’s music coursing through its veins, performed on stage live by the cast. It features vocal or instrumental performances from almost all the characters as well as providing soundtrack themes and sound effects throughout. A fantastic addition for this music lover because it wasn’t a musical, just musically enhanced.

Act one starts us off in The Garter Inn, where most of the play is staged, and right away you see how important and creative Benjamin Elliot’s, musical direction of this play is going to be. In walk our two female leads Mrs. Ford (Amber Lewis), and Mrs. Page (Katey Wright), to belt out a rousing addition of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”.

Now I must admit although I enjoyed the song, I found the pacing of the first scene difficult to warm up to and I was a little unsure if I would enjoy the next 2 hours. Then suddenly, almost as if a switch had been flipped, Mistress Quickly (Patti Allan) graces the stage and the show takes flight. The ensuing scene between Quickly, Simple (Benjamin Elliot) and Dr. Caius (David Marr) had excellent line delivery from all players, hilarious staging and it set the tone for the rest of the show.

One fantastic scene in the show is between Falstaff and Ford (Scott Bellis), who is actually dressed up as Brooke because he thinks his wife is cheating on him, Bellis’ portrayal of Brooke as a stereotypical, beatnik poet, complete with tam, glasses and goatee, is amazing! His syncopation of the Shakespearean prose accompanied by live drums and piano was delightful. Bellis also goes on to sing a drunken version of “Your Cheating Heart” that had the crowd roaring.

Falstaff opens the second act crooning “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” as he rubs the side of his belly lasciviously. And the whole show flies by so quickly that it’s over before you’ve finished laughing. Perfect.

The entire cast of Merry Wives of Windsor was excellent. The actors were able to display their many talents in both music and acting. And it’s true what they say, no small parts etc…because Todd Thomson’s part of the Host was superb. Shakespeare delivered with a thick Newfie drawl, awesome.

Merry Wives is a treat to watch and everyone should try to do so this summer. It runs until September 21 but why wait, see it this weekend!