Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland

10/06/2015 - 15/06/2015

Production Details

The Unitec Shakespeare season will premiere on 10th and 11th of June.

Another love story, but this time international relations are eschewed for ribald mockery, taunting and riddling language between the obviously made for each other Kate and Petruchio.

The Taming of the Shrew sets wit and physical comedy alight and the hotly debated outcome of the ‘taming’ arises from a humorous game of sexual politics and attraction. Directed by father and son duo, Paul Gittins and Calum Gittins.

This season of back-to-back Shakespeare sees the Unitec acting programme at its best; talented and skilled performers, top industry directors and The Bard himself. Don’t miss it!

Unitec Shakespeare Season 2015

Wed, 10 June – Taming of the Shrew 7pm

Thu, 11 June – Antony & Cleopatra 7pm

Fri, 12 June – Taming of the Shrew 7pm

Sat, 13 June – Antony & Cleopatra 2pm / Antony & Cleopatra 7pm

Mon, 15 June – Taming of the Shrew 7pm

Tue, 16 June – Antony & Cleopatra 7pm

Wed, 17 June – Antony & Cleopatra 7pm

Venue: Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Building 6, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland
Ticket info: or (09) 361 1000. Booking fees may apply.

Ava Diakhaby - Signora Baptista 
Trinity Whyte - Bianca 
Blaise Clotworthy - Hortensio 
Sadia Gordon - Katherina 
Tyler Brailey - Lucentio 
Taylor Griffin - Petruccio 
Holly Stokes - Tranio 
Hannah Rohe - Gremio /Merchant/Tailor 
Shannon Hawkey - Biondello/Widow 
James Corcoran - Grumio/ Vincentio 

Theatre ,

Wed, Fri, Mon only

Well liked

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 18th Jun 2015

A new Shakespeare production is always worthy of note and when directors of skill and experience engage with exuberant and stylish student actors the result is often Shakespeare viewed through a new lens, and with a contemporaneous flip that is both exhilarating and incisive. That’s Shakespeare, of course, ever able to be interpreted and re-invented in ways that speak to us whatever our age and whatever our background.

It’s been my unique pleasure to be the Theatreview person regularly charged with writing about the annual UNITEC Shakespeare productions which so far has included Romeo and Juliet (2012), The Comedy of Errors (2012), Hamlet (2013), The Merchant of Venice (2014), Twelfth Night (2014) and now The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra (2015). It’s a privilege, and I consider it a singular assortment of extraordinary theatregoing experiences. My son agrees as they form the base of his understanding of live performance beginning, as these do, when he was a mere nine years old. 

The first in this year’s brace of productions is The Taming of the Shrew and an interesting production it is. Written somewhere between 1590 and 1592 it falls neatly into the category of ‘early works’ and is usually classified as a comedy. This fine, young cast certainly understands the comedy component and the laughs come thick and fast throughout the ninety minute passage on the stage.

Being a purist, I’m not usually that keen on trimming the author’s precious words but, in this case, I’m happy to eat my own and say it works particularly well.

Created as a plot within a device, the play’s structure is particularly sound and sustains the riotous action beautifully. The main intrigue revolves around the wooing of Katherina, the shrew of the title, by the self-interested ratbag Petruccio. This very punkish and aggressive Kate (a feisty Sadia Gordon) is the equal of any man in rhetoric, punning and scrapping, and her journey from this to acquiescent and biddable bride is the stuff of which this plot – and its inherent challenges for a modern audience – is woven. Petruccio (a handsome and devious Taylor Griffin) leads his spirited Kate, by means of a series of psychological provocations, usually termed ‘the taming’, to this accepting state and it’s almost – though not quite – credible.

In an attempt to deconstruct Shakespeare’s design to expose his intention, Maddy Costa in The Guardian (in 2012) strips away the comedy and describes the plot as “a man acquires a rich but headstrong woman as his bride. At the wedding, he punches the priest and later refuses to attend the family party. He drags his bewildered wife through the mud to his country house, where he starves her, deprives her of sleep and contradicts every word she says. By the time they return to her father’s home, the woman is meek and submissive.” This brutality is enough to encourage director Edward Hall to describe the play as “theatre of cruelty”. He tells us that, in 2007, his all male cast “followed the text through to its bitterest conclusion. Look at what Shakespeare has written,” he suggests. “Kate is starved of sleep, beaten, refused food.”  He goes on to argue that this mistreatment is “too often played for laughs, when what should be being communicated is Kate’s suffering.” 

In Hall’s view, Shakespeare wasn’t being misogynistic in portraying Kate’s subjugation, but rather questioning society’s values when it came to the roles of women. Hall goes on to insist that Shakespeare is actually “challenging an audience’s expectations of how a woman is supposed to behave. What if,” he asks, “as a human being, she doesn’t want to roll over, as was expected in Shakespeare’s day?” He concludes, “I actually think he’s championing the woman’s rights.”

No surprise, then, that I happen to agree with him because Shakespeare takes up the cudgels on behalf of the downtrodden on many, many occasions through his art.

Then there’s the ‘misunderstood romance empowered by Petruccio’ argument. Lisa Dillon, who played Kate in Lucy Bailey’s 2012 RSC production, says, “If you look at the language she uses, all the way into the second half, it’s odd. The verse is staccato, there’s lots of saying ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ You get the feeling nobody ever listens to her. Petruccio gives her the power of speech and language: he gives her freedom to speak. That is not a woman being crushed.”

Bailey and Dillon go on to argue that Kate is, in fact, liberated by Petruccio. “If she didn’t marry him,” Dillon suggests, “she would go from shrew to witch and end her days as a madwoman” and it’s also difficult to disagree with that. I guess the point that needs to be made is that this is a complex play and that, for this reason alone, it’s certainly well worth adding to the student repertoire.

A further question: is it out of time and harsh? I don’t think so, and this production does a nice job of keeping things the way they were. Feminism in the 20th and 21st centuries holds that the personal is political but in this Shrew the personal is simply personal and it’s quite nice that it stays that way. It’s set up as an entertainment and it doesn’t deviate from that line. If there is misogyny in the play it rests with Katherina’s ‘father’, Baptista (Ava Diakhaby), who is quite happy bartering his daughters to the men who offer the most to him financially. But as the role of Baptista is cast in this production as a Signora, the criticism is somewhat softened. So much for equality! 

However, it’s not only Kate who cops it from both critics and actors alike, but her younger sister, the ‘flirty, wily’ Bianca as well. Michelle Gomez, who played Katherine for the RSC in 2008 says, “Bianca gives women a very bad name. She is the manipulative, backstabbing, awful version of what women are, fluttering her eyelids to get what she wants.” Who said being an actor was easy? Not anyone I know, that’s for sure. 

So The Taming of the Shrew is a multifaceted and difficult play, we get that, but having chosen it as the performance vehicle for ten young actors in the middle of their final year of training, just how well did they do in getting the beast onto the stage? The answer is – very well indeed. It’s a trimmed down version, pared from a standard two hours fifteen to just ninety minutes and it suffers nothing in the editing.

The direction of Gittins Pèreet Fils is crisp and workmanlike and allows the actors the freedom to present their talents in a most affirming manner beginning with a delightful rendering of ‘Pastime with Good Company’ (‘The Kynges Balade’). Written by Henry VIII early in the 16th century, probably for Catherine of Aragon, it was, in its time, a bit of a hit in England and again further afield in Europe, during the Renaissance. A sure way into this reviewer’s heart and head is to perform Early Music at a high level and these young performers, under the tutelage of multi-talented cast member Blaise Clotworthy, do brilliantly well. What better way to begin a performance that highlights the joys of love, lust and chicanery than with Horny Henry’s own words:
Pastime with good company
I love and shall until I die
Grudge who lust but none deny
So God be pleased thus live will I.

The set is simple: two screens separated by a rope-handled trunk; one screen with a rural scene from Padua in pastels, the other a more unban view. The costumes are a wonderful mash-up of commedia styles, mostly in browns and creams and with footwear ranging from soft-soled dance pumps to Katherina’s heavy-weight bovver boots. It’s incredibly attractive and evocative of sun and the unpredictable fervours of hormonal youth. 

Scenes are linked by the singular sounds of a barping trombone (the excellent Blaise Clothworthy again) and they fairly zip along, which maintains an air of capricious good humour throughout the evening. The language is handled well and all the puns and evocative erotica hit home. There are delectable moments between Kate and Petruccio and the chemistry ranges from artic to tropical and back to arctic in nanoseconds. Especially enjoyable were the exchanges around Petruccio’s “will you, nill you, I will marry you” speech and the ultimate resolution of the plot. While the dilemma of feminist tract versus misogynistic diatribe isn’t resolved and would take more than a subtle wink to round it out, in this production it simply doesn’t matter. It is what it is and the personal is simply personal and we accept it as such.  

The ensemble is uniformly successful in living the story and there are standout performances in all the key roles. As Katherina, Sadia Gordon does the seemingly impossible by managing to be as stroppy as it’s possible to be but soft and sexy at the same time. Taylor Griffin is an admirably cunning Petruccio and the chemistry between the two is exactly what’s needed to make the heart of the play beat at a rate that we, as audience, can connect with. 

Historically, Hortensio is the character that Shakespeare is thought to have changed the most from his initial concept but in the hands of the able Blaise Clotworthy, who seems to have been all over this production, it’s as safe as houses if for no other reason than that the man has talent on so many fronts.   

James Corcoran wins all the way in both his iterations, first as Grumio and later as Vincentio. He’s a most watchable actor with a great future. Holly Stokes, like Clotworthy, is everywhere as Tranio and impresses with her comic timing and her physicality while Hannah Rohe who seems to play everyone else in the play is quite simply stunning. Her range is exceptional and she bustles the production along like a nanny on a skateboard. There are no bad performances in what is essentially an ensemble piece of work.

I look forward to the annual UNITEC Shakespeare’s with enthusiasm and long may they continue to educate and entertain. Showcasing student talent and engaging the best of directors to guide, illuminate and cajole is simply the best way to challenge and stimulate young minds and what better, more challenging, playwright to expose these ‘hearts’ to than the Bard himself. 

Sorry Petruccio – and all the rest – but I’ll let Kate’s words suffice to be my last about this work, and simply say: “I liked it well.”


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