Don’t try this at home. What Petruchio, the gentleman of Verona did, I mean. First of all, his methods are politically incorrect; the very epitome of chauvanism. Second of all, few of us would be able to muster his degree of determination and steadfast resolve, to tame the untamable lioness, that is Katherina (Kate) Minola, the so-called shrew.
Perhaps, though, in modern, post-feminist parlance, she’s merely, at worst, a difficult woman, in the affirmative sense that, say Renee Geyer, or Germaine Greer, is. Still, she’s no pushover and Petruchio is the only one in this Shakespearean landscape able to man up enough to soften and subdue her.
The Sydney Shakespeare Company returns, for another summer festival season (it’s fifth), to bring us this late 17th-century entertainment which pits Mars against Venus in a definitive replay of the timeless battle of the sexes. Part of its attractiveness is its openness to interpretation. Old school blokes can lay claim to it as evidence of the efficacy of a cruel-to-be-kind approach to relationships. Hardliners will see it as a record of endemic female oppression, mental cruelty and domestic violence down through the ages. Feminists will see it as a progenitor to the liberating writings of Friedan and Steinem.
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And there are those among us who, even in acknowledgin the possibilities of all the above, will see it first, last and foremost as a light, playful farce.
Familiar faces reappear for this production, with certain, previously modest performances showing much improvement, to the point where this is a solid effort across the entire cast, thanks to director Julie Baz: the whole being commensurate to the sum of very well-played parts. Foremost among these are John Michael Burdon as Petruchio, who sets the bar high insofar of diction, projection and an accessible, inspired, energetic reading. Christina Falsone gives as good as she gets, rising to the occasion as Kate, his nemesis-turned-sweetheart.
Richard Hilliar makes for a charming Lucentio, the ardent suitor of Bianca (played with sensuous swagger by Nicole Weinberg), Kate’s more bodacious and, he’s led to believe, pliable sis. Lana Kershaw is notably expressive and nuanced, too, as his deceptive servant, Tranio, and hers is, as much as anybody’s a standout, consistent performance.
David Jeffrey is idiosyncratic fun as Gremio, a supposedly more elderly rival for Bianca’s affections and, as such, he could’ve worked decrepitude a little more. Jacob Thomas is, by contrast, a little more understated as Hortensio, a loyal mate of Petruchio’s, but good all the same. Roger Adam Smith has clearly worked hard to outdo his previous efforts and is also pretty reliable as the girls’ long-suffering dad, Baptista.
Many of the actors double in other roles and can be seen playing Hamlet on alternate nights; a laudable feat tantamount to the high wire. Julie Baz and David Jeffrey have devised a novel wardrobe very much befitting the eccentricities and delightful excesses of the work, too.
If you manage to luck in with the zig-zagging weather, you’ll probably find there’s nothing much more pleasant than spreading out on a blanket, glass of wine and snacks within easy reach, lapping up the sometimes licentious musings of the bard on the subject of sexual politics.
The details: The Taming Of The Shrew is running alongside Hamlet at Bicentennial Park on the Glebe Foreshore until February 12. Tickets on the Sydney Shakespeare Festival website.