The Taming of the Shrew

Te Papa Amphitheatre, Wellington

03/02/2006 - 18/02/2006

Production Details

Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jacqueline Coats & Rachel More
Musical interludes by Stephen Gallagher


In 1869, gold was discovered in Karori, starting Wellington’s very own gold rush. While in reality, this gold rush did not last longer than a couple of years, for this production we imagine a Wellington transformed by a sizeable gold rush, with rich merchants and lucky prospectors, new buildings and lavish social occasions – all the hallmarks of a town infused with sudden new wealth, and a fantastic and appealing setting for The Taming of the Shrew.

Setting the play in the 1860s is an opportunity to explore the attitudes toward marriage in New Zealand at the time. New Zealand women in the 1860s were certainly stronger and more forthright than their English counterparts. They worked alongside their men, and their lives were short and hard.

Anna Kennedy
Phil Peleton
Mel Dodge
Dan Sanders
Will Harris
Kate McGill
Joel Allen
David McKenzie

Theatre ,

Out for a gold rush duck

Review by John Smythe 10th Feb 2006

Set in an 1869 Wellington that’s in the grip of gold fever, following the discovery of gold in a dead duck’s gullet, the Summer Shakespeare 2006 production of The Taming of the Shrew is richly entertaining.

The notions of fever, rush and being out for a duck are all good drivers for co-directors Jacqueline Coats and Rachel More (who also helmed last year’s splendid Much Ado About Nothing) and their enthusiastic team of players.

With too many men and not enough women, the competitive rush to "wive and thrive" is fierce. So too is Katherina (Kate), in resisting the fate of being bound to the matrimonial stake. Her father has decreed she must marry before her much more sought-after sister, Bianca, may.

Anna Kennedy’s formidable Kate is openly honest in her pre-emptive strikes against the intimacy she so clearly fears. Antonia Bale’s little minx Bianca is duplicitous in the way she manipulates the affections of her three suitors.

Eschewing the standard rough-diamond persona, Phil Peleton plays Petruchio as a suave, self-confident prospector from Otago who acts out the despot, with the connivance of his gaggle of housemaids, to meet Kate’s irresistible challenge. Money is also a major incentive. While there may be no gold, there are lucrative bets to be won.

And so, in the wake of sleep deprivation and enforced starvation, to Kate’s apparent capitulation to subjugation while her sisters (there’s a widowed one too), having got their new husbands right where they want them, perversely please themselves. Is Kate defeated? Will the victorious Petruchio soon get bored with her acquiescence? Or have they cracked the secret of marital bliss?

As played here, Kate may have achieved Zen-like enlightenment, declaring that only through liberation from one’s self-limiting ego and submitting oneself to the service of others, may one find true fulfilment. And Petruchio, it seems, responds to the strength of her wisdom with true respect and deep-set love.

Of course this need to rationalise the play’s problematic resolution arises from cutting the Induction scene that sets the whole Taming scenario up as a therapeutic play-within-the-play. Given its Italian setting, it would probably have been played out in commedia dell’arte extremity originally, as a provocative cautionary tale not to be taken literally. In this "gold rush" production it could well have been mounted as a travelling vaudeville show. But it’s not. The Taming of the Shrew stands alone.

That said, Coats and More (which sounds like a clothing store of the time) have taken delightful liberties with the names of the characters, and their accompanying notes, by way of achieving gender-shifts and nestling their production more firmly into their chosen cultural context. For example, in the inspired hands of Mel Dodge, Petruchio’s servant Grumio becomes Mademoiselle Georgette, a "feisty French connoisseur of Eastern European aristocracy".

The complex sub-plot of Bianca’s wooing, by suitors who become tutors in order to get close to her while their servants pretend to be them, is well handled. Dan Sanders’ Hon Lucien Vincent (previously Lucentio), "sent down from Oxford", Will Harris’s Tranio, his manservant, Kate McGill’s Bella Dello (Biondello), his maid-servant and "Twanio’s mistress", and Joel Allen’s "local wine merchant", Hortensio Green, all make great sense of the fun they engender.

David McKenzie ensures the older and richer D M Gremio, "in lust with Bianca", is a real turn-off. Various merchants, tailors, haberdashers, milliners, ladies of the night, duck-hunters, rat-catchers, entrepreneurs, priests and clap-happy nuns (who lead Steve Gallagher’s infectious if strangely Jamaican musical interludes), complete the committed ensemble.

The playful spirit of Shakespeare, who look great liberties himself with the works of other playwrights, is alive and well in this summer show.


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