Friday, 10 June 1994

Taming of the Shrew, Bell Shakespeare, June 1994

Taming of the Shrew
By Bell Shakespeare 
Comedy Theatre till June, 1994
Reviewed by KATE HERBERT
Published in The Melbourne Times, June 1994

I am compelled to love John Bell's production of The Taming of the Shrew, not merely because the Shrew in question is named Kate. It is a brazen, bawdy and hilarious interpretation with more front than Daimaru.

Bell has grabbed the comedy baton and run with it. All the personages are broad clowns accentuated by Stephen Curtis's bold costumes. Kate and Petruchio are Brunswick Street groovers in black leather and grunge gear, Grumio,
Petruchio's servant is a cunning and cheeky punk, his other servants are a bunch of thugs, pimps and hippies.

The most courageous and wonderful choice is to play the sweet chaste and ever boring Bianca as a cheap bimbo. Of course! She gets all the suitors because she's the town bike!

This is a strong ensemble. Christopher Stollery is a very inviting and modern Petruchio. Essie Davis plays a spunky, spitfire Kate. Darren Gilshennen as Grumio is a wild low-life and with Stollery makes a great double act doing Three Stooges slapstick.  The comic detail is a delight. Petruchio carries his dad's ashes around in an urn.

Of course everybody wonders about the feminist politics of The Shrew in 1994. Davis's Kate relinquishes her stroppiness to participate in her husband's taunting of others. Stollery is relieved when she finally catches on to the game. The earnestness of Kate's final speech about the dutious wife has none of the sense of mockery and becomes a bit schmaltzy. Kate's shrewishness, rather than being tamed, has turned to lustiness but there is little sexual tension when Petruchio says admiringly, "What a wench. Kiss me Kate."

The style's derivation is clearly Vaudeville. The pre-show entertainment is a (purposely) bad Russian psychic and a terribly earnest tap dancer (unintentionally?). Musician David King is on stage in a rising gold painted rostrum playing trashy musak. The cheap and tacky quality continues with Michael Scott-Mitchell's set of nasty pink reception tables at the wedding, and kitsch pile of chintzy furniture and car parts which passes as Petruchio's pad.

Bell's  Shrew is really in your face. This is exhilarating, knee slappin', belly laughin' theatre you must see - even if you hate Shakespeare.

By Kate Herbert