Shakespeare’s Shrew

Posted: January 27, 2011 in Theatre Review
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A Colourful Dream

It’s hard to believe it has been 55 years since this beautiful venue showcased its first performance of Taming of the Shrew and, now, to have them come full circle by its modern reworking. Let me just tell you that I am very cautious of productions like this, especially ones that go to work reshaping a Shakespearian classic to fit a modern mould. More often than not, these types of productions lose the essence of the original piece and its intended meaning. So, let’s reflect back for a minute and ask ourselves; what was the essence of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy at the time it was written?

The Background:

Well, like his other romantic comedies, The Taming of the Shrew focuses on courtship and marriage, but, unlike most of them, it devotes a great deal of attention to married life after the wedding. These Elizabethan upper class marriages were most often arranged for money, land, or power, rather than for love. Wealthy fathers would marry off their daughters to older gentlemen who offered them dowries of land and fortune, and, of course, the more beautiful, submissive women would be first choice among these men.

Dangerous Little Rodents

Now, this is where the “shrew” comes in. The term shrew is used to describe a woman with a violent, scolding or nagging temperament. Imagine being married to one of those in the late 16th to early 17th century, when divorce was unheard of and completely taboo. Wives who resisted or undermined the assumed authority of the husband within a marriage would naturally be the least attractive as a prospective wife.

Kiss Me Kate

Katherine Minola, or Kate, Shakespeare’s “shrew”, is a fiery young lady who protests against the very thought of being ruled by any man, even her father, Baptista. She makes a point of showing violent hostility toward the suitors her father had chosen for her and toward the very idea of marriage. But behind her hard outer shell is a soft under belly of insecurity, doubt, and jealousy toward her younger sister, Bianca. Pertruchio’s arrival from Verona stirs even more defiance in the Minola household, as he is immediately attracted to the challenge of taming this shrew of a woman, and turning her into a submissive and obedient wife.

Because of this, The Taming of the Shrew can easily be viewed as being chauvinistic and have, in the past, received much criticism that centres upon feminist ideology. But this is as a result of simply misunderstanding Shakespeare’s original intent, and ways of interpreting the play in light of changing views on the roles of women and the nature of marriage. The way I see it is that Pertruchio first fell in love with the challenge of “training” her into the perfect wife, but then as time passed, he fell in love with her and her passionate will. As his love for her became more and more apparent to her, it became easier for her to follow his lead. She knew he would take care of her and there was no need to fend for herself any longer. It’s a beautiful love story, written by a very talented playwright.

 My Experience of Taming of the Shrew at Maynardville:

Clowning Around

On arrival, my posse and I had a brief walk through the park area to where the open–air theatre was. The stage and audience’s seating area was surrounded by lush trees and shrubs, which, in turn, sheltered us from the blustery Cape Town wind during the show. It was particularly chilly that evening, so I was thrilled that we had remembered to bring warm clothing and a blanket we could huddle under. It’s always good to come prepared to these types of al fresco events. The plants and trees, however, did add a magical atmospheric feel to the whole place, which we wouldn’t have had had we been indoors.

The set was simple; no props or large furniture cluttered the stage, and all we could see were some fairy lights strung up from surrounding trees, a sign that said “bar”, and three stage entrances that had been discreetly camouflaged with green mesh. The show opened with a freshly South African feel to it as the story began with a drunk being thrown out of a bar and falling asleep on the pavement, only to be carried away by some colourful circus folk to the land of nod. Naturally this wasn’t in the original play, but added a nice touch to set things in motion and helped the audience ease into Shakespeare’s world. Thereafter we see the skilful work of director, Roy Sargeant, really come to life as Lucentio and his servant Tranio began to speak the words that had been written all those hundreds of years ago, yet were undeniably contemporary in both stance and attire. It seemed to gel together naturally and the actors seemed comfortable in conversation.

Father and Daughter

I especially enjoyed the simple, yet clever, use of sound and light in this production. The use of cymbals, drums, and other instrumental sound affects greatly enhanced the physical comedy aspect of the play and was especially effective to liven up a good phony kick or slap on stage. As expected, our prone-to-violence Kate dished out quite a few of these. The lights used for this play were minimal, but perfectly executed according to the mood of the each scene. A couple of parcans & profile lamps carefully positioned amongst the trees, the strung up fairy lights, as well as some UV lights, made the colourful costumes even more brilliant and created the illusion of place, atmosphere and time. So, bravo to Sydney Savage, the Lighting Operator, and Lynley Pillay, who was in charge of sound – I’m certain you did your director proud.

What I found particularly delightful about this production is the clear cut character differences. It wasn’t a case of identification by apparel, but each character had such distinct mannerisms, ways of moving about on stage, and the way they spoke, that they were clearly identifiable as well as memorable. The three characters that stood out most to me personally, where the flamboyant Tranio (played by Darron Araujo), the delightfully quirky clown, Grumio (played by Juliet Jenkin), and the Elvis of the evening, Hortensio (played by Daniel Barnett).

Roaring Success

One thing I did not expect was the beautifully crafted puppets that would be used during the show. It took three men to operate the breathtaking lion and one man to work the mischievous spaniel – pets of Pertrucio and an extra annoyance to the poor Kate. It added another dimension to the whole production and I found myself in awe of how realistic these puppets seemed. I couldn’t take my eyes off the exquisite big cat and just about forgot that it was being manoeuvred by a trio of skilled men.

The Conclusion:

Taking all of this into account, this production left me feeling completely satisfied, yet longing to experience more of their colourful world of dreams. It was the perfect balance between respecting the original text of the playwright and its meaning, and of the modern methods and flair of this exceptionally talented production team. The costumes were exquisite and the acting was suburb. Well done to you all and Encore!

  1. Linda says:

    Tish, your writing is exquisite. Such a wonderful overview of the history of the play, as well as the perfect recollection of our evening at Maynardville. You write so beautifully and your passion for theatre is contagious. I cannot wait for the next post!

    • Tish McGee says:

      It was so much fun to have you there to experience it with us. Hopefully we can go see another show together soon. Thank you for all your support my lovely! 😉

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