There is merry mayhem and much merriment in the Stratford Festival’s summer of 2019.
With director Antoni Cimolino cheerfully playing every laugh card in the farce book, The Merry Wives Of Windsor is a palpable comedy hit. Geraint Wyn Davies is majestically funny as Falstaff. Lusting for money and — is it possible, really, sex? — the knight makes the disastrous decision to chase two wealthy, married women — Mrs. Ford (a radiant Sophia Walker) and Mrs. Page (a chain-smoking Brigit Wilson).
A Nonstop Farce
The women discover Falstaff’s scheme and trap him in a series of punishments. They smuggle the deluded knight out of Mrs. Ford’s bedroom in a huge laundry hamper and then (off-stage) dump him into the Thames. He later escapes the same bedroom disguised as a woman, with the insanely jealous Mr. Ford (Graham Abbey in a hilarious turn, but disturbingly one meltdown away from Othello) beating him with a broom.
Over-the-top antics abound. In the mix are a Clouseauesque French doctor (Gordon S. Miller), a Welsh priest (witty Ben Carlson), Falstaff’s roguish entourage (led by Randy Hughson as Pistol), the easy-going Mr. Page (Michael Blake) and Lucy Peacock as wily Miss Quickly. Cimolino keeps them busy pulling faces, pratfalling, taking Pythonesque silly walks, flopping in cow pies, hiding in closets, stepping/sitting in chamber pots/basins, stumbling over stiles and shaking the small-town set.
A Show Brimming With Hometown Talent
Among the sweetest touches in the faux 1950s feel of Merry Wives are the melodies and arrangements by Western Don Wright music grad and Wall of Famer Berthold Carrière. Carrière conjures up a neat Monster Mash vibe for Act V’s Hallowe’en scene. Stratford company member Marion Adler supplies lyrics with the right amount of ironic distance from the foolish words of their Cliff Richards/Marcie Blane etc. inspirations. Grand Theatre High School Project alum Trevor Patt is among the vocalists heard on the recordings.
The recorded selections heard throughout the play feature London-raised percussion ace Dale Anne Brendon. You can hear her in person during Merry Wives with the Fanfare musicians sounding the reminders to get to your seat.
There are many charming interludes with young cast members skipping, hula hooping, sharing ball gloves and so on. London’s Abigail Verhaege stands out in her appearances.
A Successful Comedy-On-Demand
As the fest notes: “The Merry Wives of Windsor is said to have been written at the command of Queen Elizabeth I, who had adored the character of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s two parts of Henry IV.” This production, set in faux 1953 Stratford, opened on Saturday, June 1 at the Festival Theatre.
Indeed, Good Queen Bess must have enjoyed seeing Falstaff still upbeat after countless humiliations in Windsorland.
Check out the Stratford Festival’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, running until October 25.
Featured Image by David Cooper with Creative Direction by Punch and Judy Inc.