For example, when Mistresses Ford and Page decide to play a practical joke on Sir John Falstaff for presuming to court both of them simultaneously -- and when hubby Ford decides to surprise the spouse he believes is cheating on him -- it's a very short leap over 350 years to the day when Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz arranged some retaliation against Ricky and Fred after some perceived foolish transgression.
The immensely entertaining import, directed by Christopher Luscombe with an unerring sense of fun, really has nothing on its mind but giving audiences a generous helping of belly laughs. For the most part, the belly being laughed at is the one hanging like a sagging medicine ball from the cocky Falstaff (Christopher Benjamin) who is the butt of several mild pranks.
But in the end, when everything comes right for him, for Mistress Ford (Sarah Woodward and her helpmate (Andrew Havill), for Mistress Page (Serena Evans) and her trusting other half (Michael Garner), it's clear Shakespeare meant nothing more than offering a good, relatively clean diversion.
To enhance his skewed valentine to love and lust, the Bard threw in a sub-plot through which dainty young Anne Page (Ceri-Lyn Cissone) is courted by dimwit Slender (William Belchambers) and French-accented Dr. Caius (Philip Bird), all the while her heart belongs to dapper, reformed gadabout Fenton (Gerard McCarthy) -- whom her father disdains. Much of this action is greased by bustling go-between Mistress Quickly (Sue Wallace), who also has a hand in the Falstaff shenanigans.
All of the action takes play on the simple two-side unit set -- one side being a humble cottage façade, the other side being the Garter Inn -- above which sits a gallery on which musicians completely in tune with the gaiety play dulcian, lute, sackbut, hurdy-gurdy and assorted other instruments.
Presenting the rollicking carousel of treats, the players -- who also include Gareth Armstrong as a parson, Nathan Amzi as Slender's care-free gofer, Paul Woodson as goofy Pistol, Gregory Gudgeon as equally goofy Nym and Peter Gale as well-named lawyer Shallow -- look as if they couldn't imagine having a better time. Their joy is infectious.
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