A plane, an Italian silent film set , Shakespeare set in the 1920’s? I was not sure what to expect when invited to Opening Night of Taming Of The Shrew at Queensland Theatre. I love Shakespeare, whether it be in traditional form or an updated version, and I was hoping that this play directed by Damien Ryan would keep the central elements of one of the Bard’s greatest comedies alive.
I needn’t have worried as under Damien’s steady hand we became engrossed in the lives and drama of the Minola family of Padua, the Vincentia family of Pisa, and the Petruchio family of Verona – in context of a broader community. We were fascinated with their lives, loves and lies and were in for a rollicking ride with plenty of laughs along the way. Taming of the Shrew took on a quintessential Queensland quirky flavour in this latest production from Queensland Theatre and it was so good to be sharing laughs sitting in an audience again.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is believed to have been written between 1590 – 1592 and is still relevant today. Some have blasted the work based on today’s sensibilities, so it was quite a brave play for Queensland Theatre to tackle. I like to think about the time in which a play was written and not judge by modern day standards. This play is a piece of historical work with a modern twist which I felt worked beautifully. I also found the language and Shakespearean wording very easy to follow.
It is a complex play, full of wonderful fleshy characters, male and female, which ensures our working actors engage with this heady work in tandem. It grabbed my attention from the first scene where the female actor’s voice was ‘ silenced ‘. Damien Ryan directly spoke to the women of Australia by showing the rise of the aviatrix and suffragettes and using the strong film role model of Calamity Jane. This was my favourite film as a girl. It showed me that women could be both feminine and strong , so I was thrilled with its inclusion.
Taming of the Shrew is ultimately a women’s story and tells the tale of two sisters. One wants to marry and one doesn’t. So what could possibly go wrong? The main plot depicts the courtship between naval captain, Petruchio and Katharina, the headstrong and obdurate shrew. The subplot shows a range of suitors vying for fair Bianca, who is seen as the ideal woman, an enchanting and beguiling film star.
Set on an Italian silent film set of a bygone era, the story begins with the many suitors lining up to woo movie mogul, Baptista’s, movie star daughter. The only problem is to find someone brave enough to court eldest daughter, Kate. Kate must be married first and everyone, including her father, pities the poor fellow who tries to woo this wild cat.
The set was ambitious, based on the iconic Globe Theatre. The predominantly wooden set was a series of moving parts which slotted together like a jigsaw. It was amazing to watch how it was moved and used. Lee Lewis was nervous before the play. She said, “ With so many actors and so many moveable pieces there are so many things that can go wrong.”
It was also a clever move to base the story on a film set. The multi – modal approach allowed comedic elements to shine, kept the story moving and provided a backdrop for what was to come. It was also just plain fun for a 2021 audience used to engaging with screens. Bryan Probets playing Gremio/ Grumio showing the dowry he would provide up on the big screen was hilarious and a highlight for this writer. I loved the inclusion of local Brisbane landmarks in the scene where Tania (Ellen Bailey), disguised as Lucentio, offers ever more ludicrous gifts to his love.The film work also helped to clearly delineate all of the roles, which I worried at the beginning could become confusing.
It was hard for my husband and I to pick a favourite character from the stellar cast. All played their roles superbly. Anna McGahan ( Hydra, House Husbands) was brilliant as the shrew. She even had me cringing at times. She was so shrewish I thought she would never be tamed. She portrayed Katharina in a strong and modern way. You can imagine McGahan’s Katharina as a trailblazer paving the way for the women of today. The whole audience agreed her monologue at the end was riveting.
Nicholas Brown , making his Queensland Theatre debut, was suitably strong , debonair and charming , with a hint of naughtiness, as Petruchio. Bryan Probets looked like he was having a ball as Gremio/ Grumio and received some of the biggest laughs of the night. Claudia Ware, on debut as Bianca, lit up the stage with her glamorous presence and mesmerised cast and audience alike. I loved her costumes, especially a show-stopping red gown.
Patrick Jhanur as Lucentio impressed with his energy and physicality right from the outset. Leon Cain ( Biondello) was a standout with his brilliant comedic timing hitting the high notes.The presence of a commanding Barbara Lowing as Lucentio’s mother, acclaimed silent film actress, Vincentia, was a great addition to the story. Everyone in the cast had their moments to shine and it was terrific to see so many Australian actors back on stage and doing what they love best.
Taming Of The Shrew was great theatre with a lot of fun and a lot of laughs along the way. It was also a masterful display of relationships of all kinds and re-iterated the theme that love can blossom in the strangest of circumstances. In most successful relationships there need to be moments of selflessness.The moments when you agree, “ Yes, the sun is the moon if you say it is.” As we wended our way out with a jovial audience into the chilly Brisbane night we asked the question and began to wonder, “ What would I do for love? “
Taming Of The Shrew will be playing at the Bille Brown Theatre until June 5.
Photos by Brett Boardman
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).