Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Frank Galati
Performed by Geraint Wyn Davies, Laura Condlln, Lucy Peackock, Tom Roney, Tom McCamus, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 10 to October 14, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
“Merry Wives” Not Quite Merry Enough
The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s light comedies. Some scholars believe he was commissioned to write something about middle class Elizabethans that would appeal to them. Therefore, it wasn’t appreciated by the upper class and hasn’t received the same attention as his other works. Nevertheless, he intended it to be a rollicking, slightly naughty comedy – a perfect 2011 season opener for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one would think.
Sir John Falstaff is a knight down on his luck and running out of money. So he devises a scheme to have affairs with two married women, who will be so pleased with him, that he’ll be a “kept” man. He sends the same love note to both women, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. Not being the brightest of knights, he doesn’t consider that the two women are best friends who might literally compare notes. And they do – both of them agreeing that Falstaff is fat and really rather repulsive. They decide to have some fun with him and lead him on. Unfortunately, Mistress Page’s husband, Master George Page, is the jealous type and when he gets wind of the scheming, assumes his wife is cheating on him.
In a subplot, the Pages have a daughter Anne, whom they are trying to marry off. She has three suitors – Master Slender, who is her father’s preference; Doctor Caius, her mother’s choice; and Fenton, whom Anne prefers.
Geraint Wyn Davies is delightful as the portly Sir John Falstaff, waddling about the stage. In one comedic scene, he sits with his rotund body astride a bearskin rug, suggestively stroking the bear’s nose.
Laura Condlln plays Mistress Page, who is mischievous and having some fun with the role, while Lucy Peacock as Mistress Ford comes off as just a little annoyed when she should be enjoying herself. Indeed, the merry wives could have been a little merrier.
Tom McCamus is the easy-going Master Page, and Tom Rooney is the jealous Master Ford. Rooney steals the show in Act II as the frustrated husband trying to test out his wife’s faithfulness. In his aggravated state, he washes his face in the bowl where Falstaff has just been soaking his feet. Later, he is using a brandy snifter to make a point, when his hand becomes stuck in it. The audience thoroughly enjoys seeing him look foolish, as he tries to hide the glass stuck on his hand. The shenanigans of Act II are a welcome pick up, as the play slows occasionally in Act I.
Mistress Quickly, Falstaff’s housekeeper, is played by Janet Wright of TV’s Corner Gas fame. Wright doesn’t come through with the expected humour, leaving her character a little dull. At times, she was also difficult to hear, speaking in a quiet monotone.
On opening night, daughter Anne Page was played quite capably by understudy Sophia Walker. The subplot surrounding Anne and her suitors creates some comedy when the main plot starts to become repetitive. Justice Shallow played by James Blendick is putting forward his nephew, Slender, (Christopher Prentice) as a candidate for Anne’s affection. Blendick’s frustration with Prentice’s total lack courting knowledge offers some laughs. The two work well together, as Slender asks Shallow to represent him with Mistress Anne, while Slender fixes his eyebrows and spit-polishes his shoes.
So while there are some good chuckles in this light comedy, it lacks the hearty laughs that could have been wrested from it. Perhaps it has something to do with the costumes. Dressed in prudish Victorian clothing, maybe they aren’t able to take full advantage of Shakespeare’s bawdy humour. In Shakespeare’s one play written for his contemporaries – middle class Elizabethans – well, the characters should have been dressed as middle class Elizabethans.
The Merry Wives of Windsor continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until October 14. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.