Review: (Toronto) The (All Female) Taming of the Shrew
photo by Burdett Photography
All Hips and No Bite by Spencer Malthouse
Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the actor cannot hear the director; things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the stage. The (All Female) Taming of the Shrew is a lengthy and unoriginal presentation of this famous problem play. Jaybird Productions should have left it and director Jacqui Burke locked in their cell.
In homage, perhaps, to the Bard, the set is spartan – three risers, stacked, with a few signposts and furniture pieces for context. Setting this play “in the round” was ineffective as one row of the audience was clearly sitting behind the action and between the wings. A simple thrust would have worked far better and saved some audience members being trampled. The lighting is simple but effective in the space and the costumes vary widely in quality.
This play is about the taming of Kate (Jacqui Skeete) by her new husband Petruchio (Marisa King), who effectively purchases her from her father, Baptista (Varda Shomrony) and calls her “my household stuff.” He proceeds to starve her, as one might starve a falcon to train it, and harangue her until she becomes obedient to the very core.
It is understood that by removing the offending sex the director intended to explore the power dynamics of the piece free of misogyny. However, Burke removed only sex and not gender. As such we have a powerful male lead in Marisa King, a flaccid transvestite godfather in Shomrony, a wilting love-interest in Caitlin Stanley as Bianca, and the decidedly female Kate. That is, a very loyal and reasonably offensive production of the original piece.
Along with artistic intent this production lacked coherent direction. The actors run about on stage in a veritable gyre, tripping over each other and the audience. While a few scenes show some obvious direction the actors lack any intent in implementing these movements. By the second act all semblance of order was lost until the choppy blocking in the final scene. A number of gags and a few genuine comic moments help speed the play to its conclusion.
King, as Petruchio, is energetic and powerful on stage and demonstrates a commanding ability to communicate Shakespearean prose. She swaggers about oozing masculine sexuality effortlessly. Skeete gave a jarring performance. She was effective as a shrew and subservient as a wife but her stamping and flailing were overdone. Of note in the ensemble was Erin Roche who presented excellent physical and vocal work.
This production was trite, simple, and banal. There is nothing new nor exciting about casting Taming of the Shrew entirely with women and the director chose to herald but not to explore her choice – one encountered repeatedly in Girls’ Schools throughout the English speaking world for the past 100 years. While this production is somewhat entertaining it is not profound.