Monday, June 30, 2008

Shrew Real Theatre

A review of The Taming of the Shrew from Gary Smith at the Hamilton Spectator:

"The last time Stratford did the Shrew it was all decked out like some spaghetti western.

"Complete with cowboy hats, sexy leg-defining chaps and gals in plunging necklines like Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty. It was pretty hot stuff.

"Well, fast forward to 2008, five years on in real time, thousands though in theatrical imagination, and The Taming of the Shrew is relocated in the taverns, courtyards and backstage environs of the Elizabethan theatre.

"Elizabeth I herself promenades throughout the proceedings, watching from a tiered platform, joining in to sing a song or two, raising her skirt slightly to tap a toe and generally committing herself to the merriment of this tale we now consider a tad politically incorrect.

"Director Peter Hinton, aided by that most quixotic of stage designers, Santo Loquasto, gives the entire production of Shakespeare's male-female relationship comedy a thrilling theatrical edge.

"We seem to be backstage somewhere, where the winches of stage machinery wait quietly, rolled scenic drops hang expectantly, ready to fall and take us to other times and places. A ghost light in fact, that symbol of a silent, waiting stage, casts eerie shadows of time suspended across the floor. We could be in any theatre resting between performances, waiting for lights to come full on and characters to storm the stage.

"Hinton has always been a theatrical sort of director and here he cleaves to the purpose of making us feel we are at a play that is itself about pretense and performance. In this way he perhaps relieves the play and his audience from being forced to make present-day moral judgments about Petruchio and his wooing of the wilful, and sometimes vicious, Katherina.

"It has become popular, of course, to make the distinction between a Katherina forced to succumb to a strong and dominating man and a woman who matches her male figure of sexual passion and persuasion in almost every way. However you look at it, these are battling combatants. Does Kate truly give in and give up at the end? Or does she know how to get her way, have her will and keep her man squarely on edge?

"Two exciting performances capture the fire and comedy at the centre of Shakespeare's play. Evan Buliung is a sexy, forceful Petruchio. He seems to wink at the chaos he creates around him and ensnares Kate's passion at every turn. For her part, Irene Poole makes great sense of the lady's indomitable spirit, launching to rage when necessary and a hot, seductive air when she thinks it will do her good.

"This is a pairing that keeps the play on an even keel. By the final fade out, you believe firmly these two are lovers, about to spend one fantastic night together. Roman candles are about to soar in the air. Passions are about to be unleashed.

"Allen Cole contributes some rambunctious and evocative music and the cast breaks into song and dance whenever proceedings permit.

"Of course, this is Katherina and Petruchio's play and Poole and Buliung carry it beautifully. But the supporting cast give the whole thing a wonderful ensemble feel.

"Jeff Lillico is a handsome Lucentio, Lucy Peacock in a gender-bending turn is a funny Grumio.

"Shrew is a fine example of what happens when a confident, imaginative director gets his hands on a play of great possibility. Then given two stars capable of pulling off his comic vision, he runs with it to a devastating and wildly funny conclusion."

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