Staging this play has always presented a challenge, to which Sport for Jove has risen, admirably.
Image: The Taming of the Shrew; photograph by Marnya Rothe.
Neither obsequiously purist nor deferentially modern: the production is set in what is ostensibly 1920s era filmmaking, a witness to the rise of aviation and the likes of Amelia Earhart, amongst others, seen to herald a shift of sorts in society’s still-strong subjugation of women.
A play about an unruly sister Katharina (Danielle King) who must find love before her father allows her younger and seemingly fairer sibling Bianca (Lizzie Schebesta) to wed. The play presents a morality minefield to modern producers as Petruchio (James Lugton) is deployed to woo Katharina and make way for Bianca’s earnest suitors, amongst them Lucentio (Christopher Stalley), disguising himself as the opposite gender to pervade Bianca’s home and win her affections.
Opening with an extended slapstick routine on a silent film set, the motif plays supremely well throughout both as an aside to the main action and a tragically parodic arcadia-style exposition exemplifying how the apparent female individualism celebrated by the era and extolled in the early pages of the play may not be so readily available when you scratch beneath the surface. The theme is propelled here to even greater effect through silent film reels both expanding on and contrasting with the action as you see it on stage. At once exasperating and delivering some of the heftiest laughs, the technique altogether befits the satirical bent of the production that is thankfully deployed, in the absence of a contrived explanation or excuse for the play’s contentious ending, to address some of its morally questionable outcomes.
Lugton is phenomenal as Katharina’s unrepentant suitor, owning several sequences including the gloriously staged wedding scene. Bouncing well of a few aptly-placed comic foils and minor characters, together the fine cast repeatedly up the ante when it comes to physical humour. And in turn this fuels the play’s comically tragic and distinctly absurdist edge, allowing the performers space to skewer some of the story’s problematic elements while remaining loyal to the source material.
Stalley delights as one half of a gender-swap duo who share some of the play’s funniest moments, while musical asides nicely and often hilariously complement the show, it stretching the runtime somewhat.
An outrageously well-staged play, this production boasts something very different, even for diehard Shakespeare or Heath Ledger fans who’ve seen this story told many times before.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Seymour Centre and Sport For Jove Theatre Co. present
The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Amy Usherwood, Angela Bauer, Barry French, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Danielle King, Eloise Winestock, George Banders, George Kemp, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, Michael Cullen, Robert Alexander and Terry Karabelas
York Theatre, the Seymour Centre, Chippendale
19 – 28 May 2016