Greg Ochitwa’s production of Shakespeare’s sexy comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor is on stage now at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. This week, the Do Sask Book Club met up to watch the play. Ashleigh Mattern, one of the book club’s loyal members, wrote a review. (She shares reviews regularly on Goodreads.) Here is what she thought about both the book and the show:
Review of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Saskatoon
“The play was so much better than the book! This is the first Shakespeare book I’ve read since high school and I guess I’m out of practice. It was like reading French for me (which I can read, but poorly). My struggles with the language aside, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a humorous story. I even laughed out loud once while reading. But I also went to the play after reading the book, and I spent pretty much the entire play laughing. The book is not very long, though, and reading it helped me understand some of the dialogue more when I went to see the play, so overall, worth my time to read it.”
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a love story in the style of a good British comedy, following the fat knight Falstaff as he attempts to woo two high-class married women for money. I tried to read the play beforehand, but agree with Ashleigh that it’s difficult to understand old English when you’re used to the new stuff. It was way better to watch the play in person for context around the comedic love triangle and slapstick antics.
This rendition appears to be set in modern day time, but I can’t be sure because some of the clothing reminded me of apparel you’d see in the 80s. Along with the modern-ish costumes, there’s a twist on one of the romantic relationships. As a take-off from Shakespeare’s all-male cast, Ochitwa makes use of his predominantly female crew with a LGBTQ love story.
The StarPhoenix’s Cam Fuller says: “It says something about progress when Shakespeare is altered to include a same-sex romance and it’s hardly even noteworthy.”
He’s speaking of the director’s choice to change Master Fenton, a would-be suitor to Mistress Page, into Mistress Fenton. The “Pay What You Can” audience didn’t seem phased by this gender flip and the plot worked well with the lesbian dynamic. However Mrs. Page accidentally referred to her as Master Fenton in one of the last scenes. Both actresses, Elizabeth Nepjuk and Jacqueline Block, were beaming after their on-stage kiss.
I anticipated Joshua Beaudry would take the lead role as the egotistical sleaze Falstaff in this production, after stealing the show as Malvolio in last year’s “Twelfth Night“. His portrayal dominated the stage, but it was so overt that it lost the subtle charm that he’d captured as Malvolio. Falstaff wears baggy shorts, a baseball hat and a chain while “dabbing” during conversation, chugging brown liquor in record time, and swinging his paunch in attempts to seduce both Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page.
The stand-out character to watch is Mr. Ford, husband of Mrs. Ford, played by Jaron Francis. He sets up a disguise and coaxes Falstaff with liquor to determine if his wife will sleep around or not. The character is insecure with hilarious asides and subtle actions that portray what it is to doubt a marriage.
All things considered, this play is a fun trip to Shakespeare’s lighter side. While the theme isn’t sophisticated (money, drinking, and sex), you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how relevant the story-line holds up to current sitcoms. It’s probably best to leave the kids at home for this one.
Be sure to come early for literary programming at the K+S Potash Canada Community Stage. We heard readings from Ken Fox, Beth Goobie, and Shanda Stefanson from Tonight It’s Poetry before watching the play.
As mentioned above, this was a first-time “Pay What You Can” event to make theatre more accessible to the public. Regular tickets are $38 for adults, $30 for students and seniors, and $23 for youth. Purchase tickets online at ShakespeareSask.com, or call the box office at 306-652-9100.