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Roger Forbes as Falstaff. Photo Andrée Lanthier.
Roger Forbes as Falstaff. Photo Andrée Lanthier.

Theatre review: Falstaff at the NAC in Ottawa

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Falstaff runs in the Studio at the NAC through November 3. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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The world premiere of FALSTAFF now at the NAC Studio provides a fascinating and entertaining look at one of Shakespeare's best known characters, indeed, one of all literature's comic giants.  Written by Roger Forbes, who plays Falstaff, and John Wood, who directed, the play is based on the 1976 award-winning novel by Robert Nye.  The character has been expanded to include not only the fictional Falstaff, but also the historical John Fastolf.  We meet him at the Boar's Head Tavern at the age of 81, as he shares his sometimes bawdy memories of both historical high points and personal low ones.  It's a wonderful mix of history and fiction.

During the course of the play, essentially a monologue, Falstaff relates what he calls "my own great march to heaven."  He's very pithy about the Irish, leprechauns and what he refers to as "that unhappy saint-soaked island."  His three versions of the battle of Gadshill, which occurs in HENRY IV, Part 1, are especially entertaining.  Act II opens with a hilarious dissertation on farting, but also contains his spellbinding and moving account of the Battle of Patay in which he fought with the English against the French, led by Joan of Arc.  In other words, the play ranges from the bawdy to the eloquent but always remains essentially human.

Eo Sharp's atmospheric set for the Boar's Head Tavern features a backdrop of stained glass windows flanked by dark wood paneling.  The furniture is heavy dark wood and includes pieces that have multiple uses.  Her costume design gives Falstaff even more size and presence.

Jock Munro's excellent lighting is full of subtle changes that create a feeling of movement for the character, both physically and emotionally.  Keith Handegord's sound design is subtly suggestive and provides a terrific jolt in the final moment.

Roger Forbes makes a wonderful Falstaff, giving the character not only humor, but also sensitivity and a voracious appetite for life.  This is a three-dimensional Falstaff who has a sense of humor about humanity's foibles and also his own.  Mr. Forbes gives the character unexpected depths.

John Wood's direction is masterful.  He has found clever ways to stage the transitions in Falstaff's narrative so that we're carried along in time and place.  I particularly liked Mr. Wood's choice of how to illustrate the Battle of Agincourt.

This is an excellent production of a fascinating play.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea, as part of the fun is catching the Shakespearean allusions.  However it's a tour de force by Mr. Forbes, beautifully directed by Mr. Wood and splendidly mounted by the NAC.

On a scale of one to five the NAC/The Old Castle Group co-production of FALSTAFF gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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