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