I was so happy to be back in Stratford again this summer! The Taming of the Shrew holds such a special place in my heart because it was the first Shakespearean show I ever saw, and my first Shakespearean show at the Festival, way back in 2003 and so was one of the reasons that I set my life on a theatrical path. To get to see the show again, as my first performance of the 2015 season, and done in such a beautiful manner was fabulous; I so thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish.
One of the things that I loved right off the bat was that the used the frame narrative that is included in the play, and yet is so often disregarded. And of course, in true Chris Abraham fashion (He’s the director, and one I adore), there was an even outer frame that began the moment we came in and made the frame within the play itself easier to understand. It was so lovely to have the actors breaking the fourth wall before the show and coming around to talk to us. From there, one of the actors played a disruptive audience member, who then becomes the drunkard that the ‘actors’ convince into being their lord and for whom they present the play. It was all so brilliantly done, and made the little scholar in me so happy!
In the outermost frame, where the actual actors were breaking the fourth wall, Tom Rooney gave a little speech about gender and disguise and how they work in this play. I was very happy that they made a point of this for two reasons: 1) it plays into what the next frame deals with and then the subject matter of the play itself, 2) It hearkens back to the way the play would have originally been done, with boys dressed as girls, and this of course also affects Kate’s final speech, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The whole play was done very traditionally, which I certainly appreciate. The stage even looked like the Globe Theatre with its giant red pillars and square thrust stage. The costuming was also very traditional with beautiful ruffs and gorgeous gowns for the ladies. One of the elements I loved the most was the musicians live on stage. They were such a fun element of the play, and completed the traditional feel. It was like they had their own little part in the play, made their own comments through their music, and really were another element of comic relief. I thought it was simply delightful!
Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay played Petruchio and Katarina, and they were both experts at their roles. Deborah was a fierce, forceful and frightening Kate, while Ben’s Petruchio was tough, tempering and (at times) terrible. They were a perfect match. Having seen Deborah play the demure Bianca, it was amazing to watch her be so vicious playing Kate. The two of them were so physical, and that added a whole different element to their relationship, and yet made the taming all the more noticeable. The fact that the two of them are married in real life just added another level to the story that was so rife with frames and layers.
These two were equally matched by the rest of their cast, who performed wonderfully. The whole thing was a joy to watch from start to finish, and that always has to do with the cast as a whole. They brought such life and vivacity to the play, and I didn’t feel like a single person was miscast. It was truly a great deal of fun to experience.
Last, but not at all least, I’d like to talk about Katarina’s final speech. There’s always a great deal of criticism about it because to a modern audience it sounds so patriarchal. And yet I felt like this production handled it in an excellent way. It seemed to me that Kate believed what she was saying wholeheartedly, which I do really like because then the transformation that Petruchio has made, but also that she has made for herself is complete and therefore the ending can be a happy one. During her lessons to the other wives, Kate does make it clear that while you should obey your husband, he should be worthy of the obedience, and while they mere fact that she says to obey them is patriarchal, there is the element of choice, which ads a flair of feminism. But for me, it was the final moments, where she held out her hand to Petruchio, and just before she lets her hand fall, he rushes up to take it. I felt like in that moment, the two of them agreed that their lives were a partnership, and that she isn’t his servant; that as long as she will be faithful to him, so will he to her. While it was only a gesture, and I can’t know if it was meant to have that meaning I endowed in it, but I felt like it was a really great way to deal with what can otherwise be an antiquated and demeaning speech for women.
It’s amazing to get to see a play that you saw when you were much younger. It’s a great way to see how much you’ve grown and how your attitudes have changed and how much more you know. I can’t wait to see what I’ll think of it in another 12 years!
The Taming of the Shrew runs into October! For tickets you can follow the link here: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29356&prodid=57753