Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Hal and Falstaff

(Left to Right) - top: Matthew John Lundvall, Melanie Karin, John Doucet
bottom: Katie Ryerson, Simon Bradshaw, Geoff McBride (Photography by JVLphoto (Justin Vanleeuwen)

Hank And The Fat Man
by Jim Murchison

It is ambitious to perform a Shakespearean history. Only a fool would attempt to do five in one evening. Ottawa has a whole Company of Fools and so it is that we get the opportunity to see a condensed history, travelling through time using parts of Richard II straight through to Henry V, in order that we can get a glimpse of the evolving relationship between young Prince Hal and John Falstaff.

Margot MacDonald has directed a very talented cast through this historical collage using punk rock images and puppetry as the glue that fuses the plays into one cohesive story about coming of age and more simply ageing. 

For lovers of Shakespeare and history buffs you get 4 plays for the price of one

With so much history to get through Hal and Falstaff is truer to the original text than some of the Fools’ adaptations, but there are still plenty of surprise choices and gender bending role play that is part of the company’s brand and mission statement to present Shakespeare in a unique manner. 

Katie Ryerson plays Prince Hal with a perky Punk rebellion, but also shows signs of true love and devotion to her dad Henry IV that are quite touching. Her pal John Falstaff is played by Matthew John Lundvall with a hesitating swagger that informs you immediately that most of his exploits are the fabrications of a braggart. He is not cast against type already possessing a stature that towers above most of the cast and needs nothing else except for the augmented belly that makes him all the more Falstaffian.  

The supporting cast all play multiple roles including shared responsibility for the characters played by the puppets. The characters are very distinctively drawn with just some minor accessory changes to indicate the differences. Geoff McBride plays King Henry IV with the benefit of a crown for example and a hostess by wearing a brassiere. The rest, as they say is “acting!” At times it is very broad, at others more subtle as the text and direction require.

Melanie Karin is cool and princely as Prince John and possessed with a hilariously wild bloodlust as the Scottish warrior Douglas.  John Doucet is very dignified as the bespectacled Lord Chief Justice and plays with giddy abandon handling the doll that is the character Boy. Among the roles played by Simon Bradshaw is a whistling Archbishop of York done exceedingly well and an actual pistol packing Pistol.

For lovers of Shakespeare and history buffs you get 4 plays for the price of one which is by the way pay what you can with a suggested donation of $15. The artistic vision is topped off with costume, set and puppet design by Vanessa Imeson and Rebecca Miller provides the lighting design. 

As heavily parsed as it is, each half runs 1 hour and 15 minutes. You can’t get through that much history any quicker and the play runs at a deliberately lively pace. If you miss it at the Gladstone, it will also be running at Shenkman and CentrePointe.

runtime: approximately 150 minutes with one intermission
Hal and Falstaff runs until September 8 at The Gladstone
September 10-15 at the Shenkman Richcraft Studio
September 17-22 at CentrePointe Studio 


  1. Just caught this show at the end of its run at Centrepointe.
    Very impressed. What a talented bunch. Thank you.
    Only wish there were more in the audience to appreciate it.


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