Shakespeare BASH’d returns to the Toronto Fringe Festival with their latest salute to the Bard, The Merry Wives of Windsor, playing in the upper decks of the Victory Cafe. Complete with secret identities, misdirection, a randy rotund knight, trickster wives, young love, fake fairies and, of course, a wedding, this spirited rendition of one of Shakespeare’s comedies deserved its sold out audience for the first evening’s performance.
Shakespeare BASH’d‘s entire mandate is to perform the Bard’s plays with a focus on the text and characters, paring back the extra interpretation or intricate settings that some companies choose to use and putting the essence of the play at the forefront. I’d heard a lot about the company, but this was my first time seeing one of their performances and I can see why they’re so popular.
Setting the show in a small bar plays well with the intimacy of the play, and the cast does well to draw the audience in immediately. The show begins with the cast’s invitation to join them inside, for they’re not yet the characters of the play, but the Victory Cafe Players, a merry band of thespians. Their pre-show is charming and definitely did well to get me in the mood to see some Shakespeare.
The show itself was a breath of fresh air, completely unencumbered by fancy costumes, elaborate settings, or strange metaphorical movement pieces. Shakespeare can bring out the best in theatre companies, but also the worst. Directors James Wallis and Catherine Rainville do a great job of coaxing Shakespeare’s often difficult language out of their actors in a way that makes sense (even if you don’t fully understand exactly what they’re saying). I’d actually never read The Merry Wives of Windsor before so I was especially grateful that the actors were able to deliver palpable intent with their lines and speeches.
I also loved the simple and fluid transitions between scenes, something that is integral for a Fringe show. In Shakespeare BASH’d‘s performance, as one scene ends, the next is already starting which, for me, made the hour and a half run time fly by.
I absolutely loved being able to see a range of actor types on stage. Instead of the wide-eyed group straight out of Randolph, The Merry Wives of Windsor boasts a cast of seasoned professionals and new blood, each keeping the other on their toes. Sean Sullivan’s Falstaff was a scene stealer, as was Lynne Griffin’s adorably scheming Mistress Quickly. I was also drawn to Suzette McCanny’s boisterous Mistress Ford and her partner in crime Mistress Page (played with great zeal by Julia Nish-Lapidus).
I know that tickets for this show are going fast and I’m inclined to agree with that feeling. If Shakespeare makes your eye twitch, I can’t say that this one’s for you, even despite the production being as well put together as it is. However, if you’re just looking to see some extremely good theatre, then I’d highly recommend Shakespeare BASH’d‘s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor is playing until July 12 at Victory Cafe (581 Markham Street)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
Photo of Lynne Griffin and Sean Sullivan by Madison Golshani and Daniel Pascale.
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