Bard on the Beach: Falstaff. Photo David Blue
Dean Paul Gibson as Falstaff. Photo David Blue

Dean Paul Gibson as Falstaff. Photo David BlueBard on the Beach
Falstaff (Henry IV, Parts I & II) by William Shakespeare Adaptation by Errol Durbach

Dates and Venue 1 July - 22 September 2010, Tues. to Sun. | Studio Stage, Under the Tents in Vanier Park

Director Glynis Leyshon Set Design Pam Johnson Costume Designer Sheila White Lighting Designer Adrian Muir Sound Designer Murray Price Fight Director Nicholas Harrison Choreography Treena Stubel Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith

Reviewer Jane Penistan

Errol Durbach has taken scenes featuring Falstaff from the two plays of Henry IV together with other scenes of importance to this narrative, and conjoined them into a single play. Linking the disparate pieces Dr. Durbach employs Chorus, as Shakespeare does Rumour in the opening of Henry IV part 2, with his own verse. Nor is the Chorus confined to one voice, in various links in this chain many of the company are involved.

As this work is entitled Falstaff, much of the political aspect of both plays is cut out. The education of the future king of England is in the hands of the roistering fat knight and the guilt-ridden austere Henry IV. Falstaff shows the young man the labouring and underprivileged commoners of his future kingdom, as opposed to the wealthy, titled, powerful but disciplined and greedy aristocracy who surround his father and govern the country.

How much of this production is dictated by the script and how much is left to the director’s discretion is unclear. The Shakespearean episodes are clear, well staged and well performed. Outstanding in these scenes are Hotspur (Bob Frazer) and Lady Kate Percy (Amber Lewis), and the Lord Chief Justice (Duncan Fraser) with his justification of his upholding of the law and his advice to the young king, Henry. There is warmth and humanity here.

Colleen Wheeler as Chorus sustains the difficult task of keeping the audience informed of venues and occasions of the changing scenes. She also plays the hostess of the notorious East Cheap tavern, the favoured haunt of Sir John Falstaff  (Dean Paul Gibson) and his cronies. The narrative is always clear and well spoken, while Mistress Quickly is a competent and friendly tavern keeper. This is a beautifully executed performance.

As the Prince of Wales and future king of England, Alessandro Juliani matures from a lighthearted and fun- loving adolescent to a thoughtful young man who must put away childish things and accept the burden and responsibility of leadership and ultimately the crown.

Thrust into the title role, Falstaff, the once braggart soldier, is now an aging bon viveur knight who must live by his wits and charm. He too comes to recognise that this life style is over. Dean Paul Gibson manages to do this with aplomb.

Many of the cast play multiple roles successfully and entertainingly. The dancing is lighthearted and robust, slapstick and roguish tricks keep up the pace of the lighter scenes, in contrast to the slower tempi of the more sombre incidents.

I found much of the music meaningless and anachronistic and unhelpful to the production, while the lavish costumes of the aristocracy contrasted well those of the commoners and helped to emphasise societal distinction.

As an adaptation this is an interesting study of one of theatre’s most loved rogues as the central figure of the play.

© 2010 Jane Penistan