Review By Regan Baker
As my fingers hover over the keys of my laptop in an attempt to start writing this review the lyrics of John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick’s, Something Rotten, stir feverishly in my head.
“God, I hate Shakespeare! That’s right, I said it!
I Do, I hate Shakespeare!
I Just don’t get it!”
God, I hate Shakespeare has formed a part of my regular Broadway playlist for the better part of the last three years as it is not only an incredibly well written and comical song, but to me it was just so true! That is, until last night.
Damien Ryan is one of Australia’s most notable Shakespearian director’s and delivers a modern and powerful variation on this classic yet controversial play. The audience is transported to the set of a silent film where suitors are lining up to wed the youngest daughter of a wealthy movie mogul, but are blissfully unaware that he will not allow her to marry until his eldest daughter (and the titular shrew), is wed first. The eager suitors enlist the help of a naval sea captain to court the headstrong and fiercely independent Katharina so that they can make claim and offering to marry her younger sister, the beautiful film star Bianca.
The idea that a strong-willed and independent woman needs taming in order to be considered a good wife is cringey to think about, but Brisbane’s own Anna McGahan breathed strength and new life into the character of Katharina. There was a strong air of Amelia Earhart in her characterisation, which created a healthy juxtaposition of an incredibly strong and powerful female role-model against the character who inevitably subjugates to Petruchio’s will.
Across the board the cast could not be faulted on their performances as each one delivered outstanding interpretations of their characters and elevated the strength, in particular, of the female characters. In her QLD Theatre debut, Claudia Ware as Bianca stood out as a fiercely strong young woman fighting to be heard and seen outside of her fathers’ shadow; both professionally and personally. Ellen Bailey was, for me, a standout as Tania and not only delivered brilliant energy in her lines, but was an incredible physical performer also.
In comedic delivery one cannot go past the standout performances of Leon Cain as Biondello and Bryan Probets as Gremio and Grumio. Both delivered hilarious and unique interpretations of the characters and had the audience chuckling throughout the evening. Nicholas Brown as Petruchio came with a wealth of theatre history behind him despite this being his debut performance for QLD Theatre. He transitioned beautifully between a warm and gentle suitor while trying to woo Katharina, to being a despisable human being in the way he treated his crew and his new wife while trying to break her spirit.
Shakespeare’s works are, for obvious reasons, traditionally very word-strong, but the realisation of Damien Ryan’s directing, as well as Ellen Bailey’s movement coordination (yes, the same Ellen Bailey who played Tania) and Samuel Valentine’s fight coordination created a well-executed and deeply engaging play. Every sequence of action in this three-hour epic was beautifully thought through and the Charlie Chaplain-esque style slapstick made for light and enjoyable physical comedy.
I have seen many a play at QLD Theatre and while their sets are always elegant nothing compares to the elaborate and well-constructed maze of wood and wheels that were brought to life by Adam Gardnir for this play. There were gangways running over walkways and almost every set piece was on wheels and moved like the waves of the ocean around the stage in between scenes. In many ways the shifting of the set almost acted as a character in itself in the way the cast interacted with and moved around them; both in their scenes and between them.
My quiet concerns about this play were very quickly quashed and everyone involved in the production are to be highly commended for turning this Shakespeare avoider into a true fan. While the morals and themes presented in this particular work of Shakespeare’s remain questionable, the direction of Damien Ryan and strong performances of the cast went a long way in elevating this play into the modern era.
Taming of the Shrew plays at the Bille Brown Theatre until the 5th of June, but limited tickets remain available - so get in quick. An absolute must see for Shakespeare lovers and haters alike.