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Thursday, 3 July 2008

Women Rule in Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Hinton
Featuring Irene Poole, Evan Buliung, Lucy Peacock, Barbara Fulton

Because he mines the a play so deeply, a Peter Hinton production often turns the text inside out and backwards until you feel like you never knew the story at all. The result is rich, absorbing theatre, and to get the full benefit of what he creates, the trick is to see his productions at least twice.

First of all, Mr. Hinton begins his production of Taming of the Shrew with the use of the folk songs of John Playford to punctuate the story superbly; second he retains the induction. Often cut completely from other productions, the induction involves the drunken tailor Christopher Sly being tricked by a real lord into thinking he is also a lord of importance. It is a little odd, because part way through the second scene he disappears from the text entirely. However, it creates a framework for the other play, and it shows a true slice of daily life as Shakespeare knew it. This is especially important as the production is set in Elizabethan England, with as close a replica of an Elizabethan stage as you will get on this side of the Atlantic. Designed by Santo Loquasto, it resembles the old wooden Globe, has smoky, greasy lanterns (look closely for the decaying corpses), rudimentary mechanical cogs and a fully functional dunking stool for the shrewish ladies in the crowd. Oh, and it has Queen Elizabeth I, herself.

Yep, in this production, the real lord is turned into Queen Elizabeth I, who remains on stage for a good portion of the play. In this way the audience is kept aware of the framing device, and where other productions this season have cut holes in the fourth wall, this device keeps the audience firmly behind it. Played by a very elegant Barbara Fulton, Elizabeth is clearly enthralled with the romance between Bianca and her many suitors (who cannot hope to wed her before her elder sister, the shrewish Kate, is matched). Her Royal Highness eventually joins the fun when given the part of the widow for the final scene. She and the secretly wanton Bianca (played by Adrienne Gould) form a sort of partnership in the end, just as Kate and Grumio do.

With the further re-casting of Lucy Peacock in the traditionally male role of Grumio, Petruchio’s servant, the dynamic between master and servant changes completely. It is clear that the pair have a history, possibly sexual, which alters the dynamic between the servant and new mistress as well. Even if she is not centre stage, do not forget to watch Ms. Peacock; it is fascinating to see how each relationship is subtly revealed and transformed.

The shrew Kate is played by Irene Poole as a woman who not only wants her father’s love, but also his respect. From a single line in the text, Mr. Hinton has given Kate a limp, which adds to both her vulnerability and fierceness. It also reveals Petruchio’s sensitivity (as played by very disarming Evan Buliung – he appears to be the only man with courage in him); when they reach the turning point in their relationship he almost unconsciously supports her. Ms. Poole remains firey even during Kate’s infamous last speech, but instead of becoming either submissive or sarcastic, Ms. Poole simply reveals what is expected of both husband and wife, and reminds the other women not to forget it. It is a surprisingly but completely believable treatment of the speech.

For purists, this production of Taming of the Shrew is likely not going to be a favourite, but history buffs will love a glimpse into the gritty world of Elizabethan England, and feminists should be pleased at Mr. Hinton’s examination of the various roles of women of this time. For fans of theatre in general, this multi-layered and cunning production is sure to create a high that will leave you wanting more.

Taming of the Shrew continues in repertory until October 25th. For tickets call 1-800-567-1600.

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