Arts Theatre

The Falstaff Project brings the Bard to the bar

The Bard, the bar, the beers
The Bard, the bar, the beers

History remembers the Great Men. You know, the guys who stride through battlefields lopping off heads and cracking bones under their boots. But what about the guys who just wanted to peacefully drink some beers in the local pub?

Enter The Falstaff Project. Andrew Ritchie, co-artistic director of Thou Art Here Theatre, adapted Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 to be told entirely from inside a tavern—in this case, the Artery. Sir John Falstaff is an ale-soaked knight and drinking buddy of Hal, son of King Henry IV. Ritchie, who is directing the production, says he “fell in love” with Falstaff’s tragic character and knew he wanted to tell the story from his boozey point of view.

“Hal is at this crossroads in his life, stuck between enjoying life and meeting these responsibilities,” Ritchie says. “Falstaff is like a surrogate father for Hal and he represents the lighter parts of life. While Hal’s real dad, the king, is putting pressure to go to war and fight for the homeland. It’s a play that talks a lot about honour and doing right by your country. I question if that’s always the right thing.”

Thou Art Here bills itself as Edmonton’s only site-sympathetic Shakespeare company. Ritchie says that means they adapt The Bard to non-typical venues, like the beloved—and soon to be closed—Artery.

The director says the performers will move through all corners of the space, sharing drinks and cheers with the audience. And TV screens will bring some of the outside action in, with King Henry IV appearing periodically like a present-day politician. True to the Artery’s musical roots, different Edmonton bands will be playing every night of the production’s seven-day run, both during the performance and after.

“The fact we are in unusual venues brings an interactivity and intimacy,” Ritchie says. “There’s no fourth wall. The performer and the audience have to engage. I think that makes our Shakespeare much more accessible. It’s not so bombastic a performance. It’s smaller, it’s more human—it doesn’t have to be this high art: it can be gritty and dirty and risky. That’s how I want to bring Shakespeare to audiences.”

Ritchie counts himself lucky that they’re able to perform in the Artery before it shutters at the end of the month after being condemned by the city. Dozens of acts booked past March 31 will have to find alternative spaces.

“I’m devastated about the Artery,” Ritchie groans. “It’s feels like such a crime: it’s such a centre and the heart of the music and arts scene. It’s just plain luck that Falstaff didn’t get cancelled and all our work and money would all be for naught.”

Mon, Mar 9 – Sun, Mar 15 (7:30 pm)
With various musical guests, visit thouartheretheatre.com for full lineup
Artery, $20, $5 for bands only

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