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It seems the memo re: trees-in-theatre was successfully circulated in Bristol this past week. Following the success of The Bristol Old Vic’s The Crucible played out against the backdrop of a Deep Dark Forest, we next had Falstaff at the Tobacco Factory, deliciously set out in the round with the centre piece of any British parkland, the good ol’ Quercus robur, English Oak, forming a totem in the middle. With the air growing increasingly crisp outside the theatre, the autumn breeze was brought inside via hundreds of leaves gently turning red and orange amongst the toes of those in the front row.
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Cast-wise, the horned beast himself was played by Simon Thorpe whose sheer swagger kept the lechery the right side of sleazy and added a knowing wink to Falstaff’s most acute absences of self-awareness. Two other stars were Samuel Smith (presumably not the brewer) and Joanne Foote as Bardolph and Nanetta, respectively. As much as one can enjoy a performance including a scene of drunken vomiting to announce arrival on stage, Smith bought a boyish daftness to his interactions with Falstaff and an understated wide-eyed comic timing. Foote, meanwhile, was also not immune to sparkling-eyed charm, appearing here like the grown-up (or on her way to becoming so) version of a bored Raphael cherub. Both provided the necessary youthful counterpart to Falstaff’s bumbling agedness.