Ford (Scott Bellis), Bardolph (Alex Rose)

How do you like your Shakespeare? With a sweet, sly, finger-snapping Beat performance? A French or South Asian accent? With a mix of 60’s tunes thrown in between scenes? This Bard on the Beach production takes an inventive twist and sets The Merry Wives of Windsor to the Windsor, Ontario of the 60’s.

Mistress Alice Ford (Amber Lewis), Mistress Meg Page (Katey Wright)
[Mistress Alice Ford (Amber Lewis), Mistress Meg Page (Katey Wright)]

The production’s first half opens with two women on stage singing Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin‘” in full period attire, in a watering hole on the edge of town. Most of the action takes place here, with a colourful collection of characters that includes a rotund Falstaff (brilliantly played by Ashley Wright), and a comic Hugh Evans dressed up in hippy yogi attire (performed with a heavy South Asian accent complete with head-swaying movements by Anousha Alamian).

The story follows Sir John Falstaff and his mischievous letter-writing campaign in order to seek the affections of two married women, Mistress Alice Ford (Amber Lewis) and Mistress Meg Page (Katey Wright). He’s been knighted years ago (and nobody knows why), but is broke and could use the company and cash.

Fenton (Aslam Husain), Anne Page (Kayla Deorksen)
[Fenton (Aslam Husain), Anne Page (Kayla Deorksen)]

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Ford’s daughter Anne (a red-haired Kayla Deorksen, dressed in canary yellow frocks and other fun garb) is in love with Fenton (Aslam Husain), a leather jacket, jeans and white t-shirt fellow from the wrong side of the tracks. Justice Shallow’ suggests to his nephew Slender that he marry Anne. Slender’s buddy Simple (Benjamin Elliott, with excellent comic genius to carry his great pencil-neck geek role) offers up a book of poetry to help Slender woo Anne.

Simple (Benjamin Elliott), Garter Inn Host (Todd Thomson)
[Simple (Benjamin Elliott), Garter Inn Host (Todd Thomson)]

What Slender doesn’t realize however is that Dr. Caius (a French-accented David Marr) wants Anne for himself. Two identical love letters get sent to each mistress mentioned above, and the revenge begins. The hilarious scenes with Scott Bellis (disguised as Mr. Brook in Beat generation attire) and Falstaff are priceless. Allan Morgan dons a fez in his role as Justice Swallow, eventually riding around on stage with a horn-tooting trike.

Shallow (Allan Morgan), Mistress Quickly (Patti Allan)
[Shallow (Allan Morgan), Mistress Quickly (Patti Allan)]

Patti Allan plays Mistress Quickly, housekeeper to Dr. Caius, and the comic glue that holds both the story lines and characters together.

The Merry Wives of Windsor gets musical with a lot of great 60’s tunes sung by the cast, as well as cheerful interludes between scenes. The band’s drum even sports a Merry Wives logo on it! And there’s a disco ball.

Meg Page (Katey Wright), Falstaff (Ashley Wright), Alice Ford (Amber Lewis)

More shenanigans occur when the truth comes out that both wives have been sent the same letter of desire by Falstaff, and their husbands get in on the action. A final plot is schemed to mock Falstaff all the way home to Windsor, while Anne will be able to marry whom she chooses. I won’t give away the ending, nor the final showdown, but it’s all merry in the end when Falstaff gets his final comeuppance, and those crazy 60’s characters come out in full force.

“Let the sky rain potatoes”. Indeed.

This is easily the most fun I’ve had at a Shakespeare play so far, and I highly recommend catching this well-matched and fun cast while it’s on at Bard on the Beach.

Merry Wives of Windsor continues until September 21 at the Bard on the Beach’s Douglas Campbell Studio Stage in Vancouver’s Vanier Park. Visit the website for tickets and schedules.

All photos by David Blue.

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