The Taming of the Shrew – Shekespeare & The Dire Theatre Company (NSW)

Written by William Shakespeare, directed by Zoe Rose

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

The Forge Theatre, Gwynneville
5th-14th August 2022

Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is perhaps best known by its contemporary counterpart 10 Things I Hate About You. Knowing the basic premise of the film definitely helps when entering any production of Shakespeare’s classic comedic romp of disguises, obedient wives and, of course, love.

Let’s review the plot, deep breath – Lucentio (Natanyah Forbes) loves Bianca (Monique Barrios), daughter of Baptista (Stacey Wales), but he cannot court her until her shrewish older sister Katharina (Erin Middleton) marries. Bianca already has two suitors, the elderly Gremio (Katie Allen) and Hortensio (Jaime Peterson), although cares for neither. Gremio then hires Lucentio – disguised as a Latin tutor – to woo Bianca for him. On top of this Tranio (Alex Ilievski), Lucentio’s servant dresses as Lucentio to convince Baptista to let Lucentio marry Bianca.

But what about the shrew you ask? Well, at the same time Petruchio (Louie Cuff), a young man from Verona after learning about Katherina, resolves himself the challenge to court the shrew aided by Gremio and Hortensio. Despite being resistant to Petruchio’s advances, a wedding day is fixed and a competition to prove who is the most obedient wife is set.

Shakespeare’s thick-plotted play tells the audience a patriarchally dressed message of the proper duties of a wife. In the hands of the skilful Shekspeare performers, it’s a thinly veiled message about disrupting the patriarchy and comments on the outdated philosophies of Shakespeare’s era.

Director Zoe Rose has taken a clear approach when creating the world of Padua and harnesses the space of the Forge Theatre effectively. The set is embossed with the values of the Dire Theatre Company ‘Incite change. Without fear’ and slogans such as ‘Destroy the Patriarchy’ to clearly replicate the 1970’s feminist movement. Rose’s dedication to the zany characters is highlighted through allowing each to have their choice of accent to best represent their characters and moves the Feminist Movement beyond one singular setting.

The lengths to which Petruchio goes to tame the shrew, Katherina, is horrific on paper. The woman is literally beaten, starved and sleep deprived to “subdue” her. Allowing the show to cast female and non-binary performers lessens the intensity of these actions. Instead, this takes the message in a farcical approach to allow for social commentary to be made on the roles women play and how strong women are viewed by society.

As Katharina, Erin Middleton brings a rough, sharp-tongued approach to her character. Sporting a KISS t-shirt, she did remind me of the 1999 Kat played by Julia Stiles but with a much more oppressed situation which she visibly unwillingly played throughout as the shrew.

Oppressing the shrew throughout as the brutish Petruchio, Louie Cuff was a world away from the charming Heath Ledger. I particularly liked that Cuff managed to bring a certain hint of depth to Petruchio’s “love” for Katharina, outside the attempts to subdue her. Further focus on diction from Cuff during the moments of fast paced dialogue would have aided for clarity during the more comically physical interactions.

Natanyah Forbes shone as Lucentio bringing great humour and skill to her character as well as a great deal of sex appeal with an unbuttoned shirt and bright red blazer, complete with a chest tattoo. Leaning into the zany Italian accent, Katie Allen brought consistent laughs whenever she was on stage. Crowd favourite Kirra Rose as the servant Grumio broke the fourth wall to encourage audience interaction and offered sunglass sliding asides of exposition. Monique Barrios, Stacey Wales, Jamie Peterson, and Alex Ilievski all aided the cast in each of their respective roles bringing a cohesiveness to the entire production.

There were moments throughout where transitions lagged a bit and diction and voice were lost in the corners of the space by some of the cast. A lack of groundedness in some of the choreography of the character’s movements brought an imbalance to some scenes, meaning that some of the more hard-hitting elements of the story were lost among the crazy antics of the characters.

Shekspeare’s Taming of the Shrew is a well-thought out and confidently crafted approach to an outdated patriarchal tale. In looking at the script through a feminist lens, the team at the Dire Theatre prove yet again that there is still life and relevant meaning in even the most misogynistic of Shakespeare’s plays. In all, this is a fun panto-esque romp for those who want to burn down the patriarchy.

The Taming of the Shrew plays at the Forge Theatre until the 14th August. Tickets can be purchased here.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Zoe Rose
Producer Adam O’Brien
Stage Management Chloe Young
Sound Effects and Music Erin Condon
Lighting Design R&R Production Services

Cast: Erin Middleton, Louie Cuff, Natanyah Forbes, Monique Barrios, Alex Ilievski, Kirra Rose, Stacey Wales, Jaime Peterson, Katie Allen & Georgina Reed


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