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From left: Lucy Peacock as Mistress Ford, Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir John Falstaff and Laura Condlln as Mistress Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival/David Hou

3 out of 4 stars

The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • Written by William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Frank Galati
  • Starring Geraint Wyn Davies, Laura Condlln, Lucy Peacock
  • At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont.

Play at a glance: Stratford kicks off its season with its namesake playwright's only middle-class comedy. There are two interwoven plots: In the main one, Sir John Falstaff (Geraint Wyn Davies) - the fat knight, spun off from the Henry IV plays - tries to bed two married women, Mistress Ford (Lucy Peacock) and Mistress Page (Laura Condlln), who play escalating tricks on him in revenge. In the subplot, Page's daughter Anne (Sophia Walker, understudying for Andrea Runge on opening night) is courted by three men, only one of whom holds her true affection. Everything comes together in a pinch in fairy-filled Windsor Forest.

First impression: Frank Galati directs a simple, gimmick-free version of Shakespeare's sole comedy set in England. Geraint Wyn Davies rises to the occasion in a fat suit, playing a Falstaff so vain he thinks the show is about him - and is deliciously gulled time and time again. But it's a red-faced Tom Rooney as jealous husband Ford who steals the show with his understated brand of tomfoolery.

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Highlights: Galati's production may not set the world on fire, but it tells the story well and has a few moments of suitably vulgar genius - like Ford splashing his face with Falstaff's foot-bath water. Condlln and Peacock make a delightful double-act as the scheming mistresses. Of the supporting cast, Christopher Prentice is brilliantly funny playing it straight as Anne's barely willing suitor Slender; he has great command of the text and mastery of every malapropism.

The nitpicks: As Mistress Quickly, Corner Gas's Janet Wright seems terribly lost, communicating little meaning in her flat words - when they're even comprehensible. And as Doctor Caius - Anne's French suitor - Nigel Bennett's Jacques Clouseau routine is awfully uninventive.

Audience's instant reaction: A generous reception with the new Governor-General sitting in the front row. They loved Rooney.

Critic's instant reaction: Three stars (rating subject to change - for full review, see Wednesday's Globe and Mail)

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