The beauty of Shakespeare is that his stories, characters and themes are ubiquitous, so the text can be (and often is) treated as a template and placed in any setting. Sport For Jove’s current production of The Taming Of The Shrew takes place in the early 1920’s in an ambiguous environment which is both affluent estate and movie set.
While remaining faithful to the original script, director Damien Ryan has managed to imbue Shakespeare’s play with dry wit and wry humour indicative of the silent screen era. Using rolling gags, caricatures and physical comedy, Ryan helps make the Bard’s somewhat difficult language accessible and entertaining. Added devices such as film, period music and audio effects provide for an enthralling and fun theatre experience.
The story itself is a little prickly when it comes to feminine politics. It’s about a wealthy father of two girls. The younger, Bianca, is demure, attractive and besieged by suiters; the elder, Katharina, is the “shrew” of the title – that is, wild, rebellious and desired by no man. The father refuses to allow Bianca to marry until Katharina is safely wedded off. Petruchio, a friend of one of Bianca’s would be suitors, comes to visit and is persuaded to court Katherina. Enticed by the promise of a considerable dowery, Petruchio accepts and ultimately fulfils the challenge to “tame” Katherina.
Given that there are stalwarts who feel that this (amongst other Shakespeare plays) should not even be staged, it’s interesting to see how the touchy subject matter is handled in this production. Perhaps the most bristling scene is the “proof of triumph” in which a group of men wager on whose wife is most obedient. Only Petruchio’s wife, Katherina, answers his request to come to him immediately, intensifying the gesture by proselytising about the virtues of submission and servitude that all women should embrace. You could interpret the reactions of the other female characters and the deliberateness of Katherina’s speech as an attempt to mitigate the rather abrasive scene.
However, dwelling on controversy would be to rob yourself of the sheer enjoyment of what is an innovative, witty, impeccably executed, roaring 20’s inspired sixteenth century rom-com. James Lugton’s Petruchio is George Clooney-esque in charm and cheek. Lizzie Schebesta is a smouldering, deceptively reserved Bianca. The complex, reconstituted Katherina is played with astute nuance by Danielle King. The rest of the cast are equally consummate in their performances.
Stratford-upon-Avon meets Art Deco. Delightful. (RB)
May 19–28, various show times. York Theatre at the Seymour Centre, cnr City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale. $35-$42. Tickets & info: sportforjove.com.au
BY RITA BRATOVICH