The Taming of the Shrew

Muritai School Yard, Eastbourne, Wellington

17/02/2009 - 21/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Girls will be girls – and boys

In what is thought to be a New Zealand first, this open-air production of a favourite Shakespeare comedy features an all-female cast. "A woman’s perspective on the wooing and marriage of the two very different Baptista sisters is going to get people thinking" director John Marwick says, "and it also makes for even more comedy."

The play is about relationships, the strange and sometimes odd business of what leads people to marry, and what comes next. It’s also about bullies and fools – and men (and women) behaving badly.

Katherina Baptista has been unmarried for years – and with her nasty temper and sharp tongue she looks set to stay that way. By contrast butter wouldn’t melt in her sister Bianca’s mouth. Men old and young are falling over themselves to get her rich father’s blessing on a marriage. The challenge these suitors face is to find Kate a husband since daddy says he won’t allow Bianca to marry until her sister is wed.

Enter two handsome strangers. Lucentio, a hopeless romantic, knows at first sight of Bianca that he cannot live without her. Petruchio, by contrast, has come to town to find a rich wife – and, since he’s not choosy, Kate seems a perfect match.

In Shakespeare’s day Petruchio’s ways of wooing then ‘taming’ ‘Kate the curst’ may have been acceptable but it’s a problem for modern audiences to see a strong-willed woman apparently forced into becoming a submissive wife. "I’ve got quite a few strong-willed women who have ideas about that" Marwick says, "and audiences are going to get a fresh perspective."

The play also brings out the comedy in Bianca’s wooing – and show how easily a pretty girl can make grown men appear foolish.

Add to this music, energy and a strong, ensemble cast and you have the makings of another great Bard in the Yard production. Come along for a fresh look at this popular show and a great night out.

This production is also one of the first of the plays in this year’s Compleate Workes project – an attempt by Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand to get all of the Bard’s works performed in 2009.

What: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Who: Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe
Where: Muritai School Yard, Eastbourne (outside – but moves into adjacent school hall if poor weather)
When: 7.30 p.m. Tuesday 17 to Saturday 21 February
Tickets: $15, $12 (concessions) & $10 (Fringe Addict)
Dymocks Bookseller, Lambton Quay
Rona Gallery, Eastbourne
Door sales
Booking line: 0832 77790 

In order of speaking
Lucentio, of Pisa, son to Vincentio:  Suzanne Levy
Tranio, Lucentio´s servant:  Pip Weston
Baptista Minola,  a rich gentleman of Padua:  Sandra Gillespie
Gremio, of Padua:  Florence McFarlane
Katherina, Baptista´s elder daughter:  Rowan Macrae
Hortensio, of Padua:  Kat Angus
Bianca, Baptista´s younger daughter:  Elspeth Harris
Biondello, servant to Lucentio:  Tamsin Bertaud-Gandar
Petruchio, of Verona:  Liz Sugrue
Grumio, Petruchio´s servant:  Sarah-Rose Burke
A Maid:  Sue Jones
Curtis, servant in Petruchio´s house:  Sue Jones
Nathaniel, servant in Petruchio´s house:  Pip Weston
Philip, servant in Petruchio´s house:  Tamsin Bertaud-Gandar
Joseph, servant in Petruchio´s house:  Sandra Gillespie
Nicholas, servant in Petruchio´s house:  Suzanne Levy
Merchant:  Carol Thompson
Haberdasher:  Florence McFarlane
Tailor:  Elspeth Harris
Vincentio, a rich gentleman of Pisa:  Sue Jones
Widow:  Carol Thompson

Director:  John Marwick
Producer:  Julia Stuart
Stage Manager:  Theo Nettleton
Costumes:  Carol Thompson
Properties:  Julia Stuart
Sound:  Ray Dickinson
Lighting:  Chris Jones
Signage:  Steve Wilson
Rehearsal assistant:  Sue Lennox
Front of House:  Patricia and Ed Hickey
Photography:  Ken George Photography Ltd

Strong central performances

Review by John Smythe 18th Feb 2009

Outrageous Fortune meets Footrot Flats: that’s the look, anyway, of the costume choices for Katherina and Petruchio in this all-woman Bard in the Yard production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by John Marwick as the Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe’s contribution to Fringe 09 and the Compleate Workes project.

Not that Katherina and her sister Bianca are bogans born and bred, they’re too well-spoken for that. But each has rebelled in her own way against their more respectable father, Baptista Minola; if the feral Katherina is redolent of Cheryl West (sans cigs), Bianca is more Pascalle.

Petruchio might be all black singlet and gumboots, but he’s doing pretty well given the number of blokes working on his backblocks property. While other men vie to woo the sexy and manipulative Bianca, he relishes the challenge offered by "Katherina the curs’d". And Baptista has decreed she must be wed first before Bianca goes.

The way Liz Sugrue and Rowan Macrae work it through, Pet and Kat instantly see their match in the other and so play the game full on and for keeps. A line in Katherina’s controversial final scene speech, "That seeming to be most which we indeed least are" seems to be the key: Petruchio knows she’s wired to be loyal and loving, and that she’s protecting that vulnerability with her stroppiness; Katherina knows he is a lovely big softie beneath his ‘dog boss’ exterior. They just need to know it’s finally safe to let their guards down …

Ideologically correct sexual politics aside, there are plenty of real-life examples to validate this behaviour and it’s this core of truth that gives this production its spine. But despite a number of other good performances, a few players have yet to pursue a stronger intention than remembering their lines and this tends to weaken the sub-plots.

Elspeth Harris is deliciously manipulative as Bianca and Florence McFarlane nails old Gremio so clearly – got up as a fairground impresario and/or successful gambler – that it’s hard not to see them best suited to each other. Harris and McFarlane also offer excellent cameos as a tailor and haberdasher respectively.

Other strong performances include Kat Angus as Hortensio, Tamsin Bertaud-Gandar as Biondello, Sarah-Rose Burke as Grumio and Sue Jones, contrasting a Cooch-like Curtis with a gentlemanly Vincentio.

As an ensemble the 12-strong cast gives good support to the on-stage action with collective reactions and live sound effects. In place of the induction, the actors arrive in branded t-shirts, bop to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ then change into costume in front of us, which takes a while. The ghetto-blaster music backing is weak, and when it failed briefly, on opening night, and the cast spontaneously sang live, I couldn’t help feeling that was better.

The Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe has set a good standard with their annual Bard in the Yard productions. The Taming of the Shrew is a well-conceived addition, intelligently approached with strong central performances and a clear intention to share the fun.  


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