Tag: John Reed

REVIEW: The Taming of the Shrew

This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been

By Sebastian Purcell

If all Shakespeare was as accessible, fun and brilliantly acted as this production of The Taming of the Shrew, schools would have no trouble getting any of his texts into children’s hands. 

The Melbourne Shakespeare Company has put together a sublime ensemble that not only nails the Shakespearean tongues at incredible pace and annunciation (even more impressive outside in the elements), but also the interjection of modern references, which makes the play feel current and relatable. 

The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean, questions the essence of the feminine and masculine, power and control, truth and deceit. Each show the main characters roles are chosen by the audience, often leading to gender reversal which is poetically reflected in the production’s setting in the St Kilda’s Botanical Gardens, characters coming from Gardenvale, Elsternwick and surrounding suburbs.  

In essence the main plot is about the courtship of Petruchia (played by Emma Jevons on the day) and Katherino (John Vizcay-Wilson) the ill-mannered shrew. Petruchia takes on a bet to tame and wed Katherino in order for the younger, fairer Bianco (Saxon Gray) to marry. Bianco cannot marry until the elder sibling Katherino is wed, but Bianco already has two suitors (May Jasper and Charlotte Righetti) and is courted by another (Sarah Krndija). To add intrigue, the bet is placed as the various suitors vie for Bianco’s love, and supporting the suitor’s in their quest are their dutiful sidekicks (Emma Austin and Yash Fernando) who attempt to disguise their true intentions throughout the 90 minute performance. 

While everyone provides an outstanding performance, I think a special mention is warranted for Liliana Dalton (Trania) whom often steals the scenes and delivers the wonderful line “how now brown cow”, demonstrating a pure enunciation of the English language. Emma Jevons as the Tame and John Vizcay-Wilson as the Shrew have an authentic energy and have the most physically demanding roles. Their courtship scene is an absolute highlight of physical acting prowess. Paul Morris (Sly) on the guitar is fantastic, so much so It even felt like Tones and I’s Dance Monkey belongs in Shakespeare. 

Benjamin Almon Colley provides a masterclass in musical direction; who would have thought Kelly Clarkson’s My life would suck without you would sum up the play so gloriously? The choreography (John Reed) is tight and the use of the gardens and gazebo, as well as the set dressing (Hayley James) makes you feel part of the show. In addition, the recycled products and the digital program show the environmentally conscious nature of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company. The costuming (Rhiannon Irving) is consistent with the traditional characterisations but with the added benefit of adding a character sash to each actor making the play easy to follow and acting as clever props throughout.

This is a laugh out loud production, a comedy in all its glory. There’s so much physicality from the performers and it’s a joy to see them enjoying themselves and each other’s brilliant performances. Bring a picnic and a jumper for Melbourne’s cool evenings. This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been. A triumphant production. 

The Taming of the Shrew plays from Saturday 7 – Sunday 22 December 2019

The Rose Garden, St. Kilda Botanical Gardens. 

Tickets are available at http://www.melbourneshakespeare.com

Photography courtesy of Jack Dixon-Gunn

Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Thoroughly won over

By Caitlin McGrane

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first Shakespeare play I studied at school, and thus while it holds a special place in my heart, certain scenes are forever etched into my memory. As the Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production got underway, I was sceptical whether the blend of contemporary music and iambic pentameter were going to be a match. I needn’t have worried, as the performance rolled steadily onwards, and the actors became more comfortable in their roles, I felt completely at ease with the way the story was being told; the audience was in safe hands.

Melbourne Shakespeare Company's A Midsummer Night's Dream.jpg

For the uninitiated, the play entwines the stories of two groups; the Lovers: Hermia (Christina Forrest) and Lysander (Khrisraw Jones-Shukoor), Helena (Alisha Eddy) and Demetrius (Charlie Sturgeon); and the Players: Bottom (Johnathan Peck), Flute (John Reed), Quince (Ben Frank Adams), Snout (Ben Noel Adams), Snug (Nick Murphy) and Starvelling (Myles Tankle).

Hermia and Lysander are forbidden to wed, so flee Athens, hotly pursued by Helena and Demetrius. While fleeing they wander into a forest bewitched by faerie King Oberon (Steven Fleiner) and Queen Titania (Angela Lumicisi), with help from mischievous Puck (Paul Robertson). There’s magic potions, asses heads and lots of shouting about love as the magical beings play with the lives of the mere mortals, meanwhile the players are rehearsing the play Pyramus and Thisbe to perform at Theseus (Karl Sarsfield) and Hippolyta’s (Madi Lee) wedding. Confused yet? You should be.

As an ensemble the cast was great, I was initially wary of the players’ boisterous gallivanting and gadding about, but by the end of their first proper scene together I couldn’t wait for them to reappear. I was particular impressed by Johnathan Peck’s unique and profoundly physical take on Bottom as a sympathetic but emotionally fragile simpleton, and I need a GIF of him performing the death scene from Pyramus and Thisbe to play on a loop at my funeral; I laughed so much I cried and am still laughing thinking about it now. Christina Forrest’s Hermia was similarly energetic and gravity-defying, which helped prevent the inherently dialogue-heavy play from getting bogged down in its own trickery.

I enjoyed the silly playfulness that director Jennifer Sarah Dean has brought to the play, although moments of the Pyramus and Thisbe performance would benefit from tightening to avoid relying too heavily on slapstick. Designer Simon Bowland has done an excellent job with costumes and make-up (faeries looked suitably bedazzled), but it did look like Oberon had wandered out on stage in his dressing gown and slippers and didn’t quite match the majesty of Titania – if this was a deliberate move then I’m afraid it was lost on me. Save for a few moments where the play sagged towards the end after all the frenetic activity, it was thoroughly good fun.

Beautifully nestled in Testing Grounds just behind the Arts Centre, City Road and the Southbank apartments provided a peculiarly complementary backdrop for this contemporary adaptation of a true classic.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Testing Grounds twice each day on 26 and 27 March 2016. Tickets available from: http://www.testing-grounds.com.au/calendar?view=calendar&month=March-2016