Local theatre  company does Shakespeare in Strathcona Park

Daniel Cress | Fulcrum Contributor

INSTEAD OF PEOPLE playing Frisbee, running, or walking dogs, you’ll see a different cast of characters at Strathcona Park this summer. On Monday nights at 7pm, A Company of Fools Theatre Company transforms a section of the park into a backdrop for the Shakespearean comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

“Shakespeare was written to be performed out in the open air,” said actor Geoff McBride. “I love being out in the city’s parks. They are the natural habitat for Shakespeare.”

The pay-what-you-can production, which travels to various parks around the city each night of the week, is part of A Company of Fools 10th anniversary of presenting Shakespeare in the park. The cast draws the audience’s attention into their world by using a small transportable set that the actors set up and tear down before and after each production.

The play revolves around Falstaff, a newcomer to the village of Windsor. Short on funds, he hatches a plan to seduce two wealthy married women, but when he sends an identical letter to both Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, they conspire together to get their revenge.

“There are a lot of distractions that happen in the parks: dogs, soccer games, people enjoying the park,” said Director Catriona Leger. “So we had to make it exciting and use very strong visual elements.”

The physical comedy of characters like Matthew John Lundvall’s Falstaff and John Doucet’s triple roles of Fenton, Mr. Ford, and Falstaff’s disobedient servant Pistol (an incredibly expressive puppet designed by Vanessa Imeson) have the audience laughing every time they appear on stage.

With such a small cast, all of the actors work double, triple, and even quintuple duty while still managing to play each character with distinctly different personalities.

“It’s an exercise of the mind to switch in a heartbeat,” said McBride. “It’s boring to play one person and wait off-stage, but with this show off-stage is almost as important as on- with all the costume changes.”

The fast pace of the play is able to capture the audience, even during set changes, when characters like Master Page, played by Simon Bradshaw, or Slender, played by Melanie Karin, put on a show within a show.

Crowd interaction is another engaging element of the performance. Without breaking character, the cast brings children into the show to serve as mischievous fairies, and even I made my acting debut when Mrs. Ford, played by Katie Ryerson, asked me to be her unquestioning servant to assist in the plot against Falstaff.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is simply an enjoyable night out in the park. While watching a passionate cast put on a piece of Shakespeare with such excitement, it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the story and laugh along as the characters’ plans intertwine and go amiss.

With crowds ranging in age and Shakespearean knowledge, the actors do a fantastic job of making the show accessible and enjoyable for everyone. The production runs until Aug.17.

“The show has something for everyone,” said Lundall, “and that’s the beauty of it.”