Poster for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ – Shoreline Theatre 29th and 30th March, Volcano Theatre
Wild Kat tamed? Some of us would rather not.
, March production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by Shakespeare was performed at Swansea’s Volcano Theatre
. It was exciting, rivetingly serious and extremely funny in equal measure. The audience was sent on an emotional journey which was fast paced, engaging, poignant, highly entertaining and at times hilarious. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ celebrates the wit and volcanic spirit of the heroine Katherina, yet seems to push the watching audience to revel in her humiliation by the brutish Petruchio.
‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is, I suspect, not the most straightforward of Shakespeare’s plays to direct since parts of it are not easily palatable from today’s perspective. As one of Shakespeare’s earlier and even whimsical comedies, it’s subject matter is inherently dark at times, yet in this production, this was contrasted beautifully by the cast’s hilarious shenanigans and onstage jibes delivered with all the professionalism of accomplished and energised actresses and actors.
Jack Coates (one of three Directors) said:
I’m very happy with how my first experience of directing a Shakespeare has gone. It was so much fun and the cast and crew were brilliant. I think the play was enjoyed by all, and I especially loved watching all the hard work pay off.”
The production was performed by the drama society of Swansea University. It is the oldest society at the university dating way back to 1922. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ was the penultimate main play of the Shoreline Theatre this year, with the final play being Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus due to be performed in the Swansea Grand’s Arts Wing on the 10th and 11th of May. The group has clearly been working hard, performing such plays as “Look Back in Anger” by John Osborne, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” by Martin McDonagh and “the staircase: A Devised Piece” which was created entirely by members of Shoreline. All this, whilst the students were doing their studies. What is also wonderful, is that the taking part provides an excellent opportunity for the students to extend their range of skills and work together on productions.
Joe Nathan (director) said:
Directing for the first time on something of this scale was daunting at the beginning but has been an incredible learning experience. I joined the production late however my co-directors were remarkably welcoming and clearly knew what they wanted, so I like to think I helped execute their vision and contribute where possible. The play was fantastic and I am very pleased with how it turned out, thanks to the ridiculously talented actors. The staging may have been a little… rustic, but our arts team did an amazing job considering the time and materials they had.”
Last week, I was told by the Drama Society’s social secretary John Fish, that ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ was directed by a team of three, Joe Nathan, Jack Coates and James Beaumont, who clearly must have worked tirelessly to get this production to the standard shown the evening I saw it at Volcano. The set was more than amply provided and wittily laid out for us with banners highlighting some key quotes from the play and the cast helping with props as the production ran.
James Beaumont (director) said:
4 years ago, I was lucky enough to star in a production of ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ and have since held a great desire to direct my own version of the Shakespeare classic. Being given the opportunity to direct by Shoreline Theatre was a real privilege and I have thoroughly enjoyed crafting a piece that I am very proud of. The cast and crew were all superbly talented and a joy to work with always giving 110% and being very supportive on this brilliant ride.”
The play is set in the town of Padua in Italy and follows the exploits of the wily Petruchio (played with diligent and boisterous villainy by Josh Hutin).
Josh Hutin (Petruchio) said:
The production has been a great moment for everyone; a culmination of everyone’s hard work. The varied experience of the production was united by the unyielding passion of those involved. Petruchio is a marked individual due to the controversy of the play, in spite of this I hope his presentation created relatable moments with the audience in a positive manner. It was great to be part of a semi-authentic period piece with no quasi-intellectual staging to hide the shocking and contentious piece.”
Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, at the beginning, the drama uses a framing device, whereby a poor tinker named Christopher Sly, (also Josh Hutin) becomes the target of a prank by a passing Lord. Having found him drunk, the Lord and his servants dress him in finery and begin to treat him like a Lord. Once recovered from his drunkenness he is told he actually is a Lord and has been insane and is now recovered. The plot is made murkier by the promise that he has a “wife” (a pageboy dressed in women’s clothing) and he is easily manipulated into believing this fake news.
Christopher Sly tries to be left alone with his “wife”(Sly played by Josh Hutin also plays Petruchio) photo by Zoe Stabler and Heather Wood
Christopher Sly tries to be left alone with his “wife” but is told he must watch a performance by a troupe of actors presented especially for him. So, begins the main story, which is initially focused on a contest for the hand of the seemingly mild and romantically “perfect” ( in courtly love terms), Bianca, (played by Maegan Byron). Bianca is the daughter of Baptista Minola, (Max Mumford) and has an older sister; the difficult and challenging Katherina, (Katie Donovan). The father declares that no one can court Bianca until Katherina is married.
Katherina (played by Katie Donovan) photo by Zoe Stabler and Heather Wood
A rich young Lucentio, (Jevan Canon) arrives in Padua to go to university accompanied by his servants Tranio, (warmly and strongly played by John Welch) and Biondello, (played with energetic and crazed wit by Andrew Abdulla). His attention is diverted from his studies by the sight of Bianca with whom he in true Shakespearian fashion falls immediately in love. Not only can he not date Bianca until Katherina is married, but Bianca already has two suitors, Hortensio (Darren Scott) and Gremio (Corey Leigh Edwards). Cue the use of disguise, as Lucentio dresses up as a Latin tutor for Bianca so he can get access to her company. Hortensio also dresses up, this time as a music teacher, with much the same aims. Tranio furthermore, dresses up for Lucentio, so he can begin negotiations with Baptista, about the possibility of Lucentio marrying Baptista’s daughter.
Jevan Canon (Lucentio) said:
Playing Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew has been a fantastic experience and a big challenge. Not only was the Shakespearean language difficult to memorise, but playing the naive, hopeful, in ‘love’ Lucentio was a far cry from other characters I have played before. Thankfully the directors James Beaumont, Jack Coates, and Joe Nathan were very supportive as was the rest of the cast. Overall it has been a very fun and enjoyable time, with an amazing group of people.”
A very brash Petruchio turns up on the scene, arriving from Verona to find a wife. Set on marrying a rich woman, he doesn’t seem to be bothered what she is like characterwise, as long as she brings with her a fortune. He agrees to marry Katherina, despite word of her “difficult” nature. When the two meet in the production there was a captivating war of both words and wills played out splendidly by the actor and actress. Katherina insults Petruchio and is met by a firm demand that she will indeed marry him whether she likes it or not.
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katherine: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?”
Eventually, Petruchio gets his way, falsely claiming to Katherina’s father that she has agreed, and so the wedding is set.
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,
For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty—
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well—
Thou must be married to no man but me,
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
Here comes your father. Never make denial.
I must and will have Katherine to my wife.”
Petruchio’s lateness for the wedding leaves Katherina fearing she will be turned down. His arrival; scruffily dressed and hilariously played up in Shoreline Theatre’s performance to the sound of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’ (complete with hobby horse!) was fun-filled and appropriately slap-stick. Once married, he does not stop to join in the feast and takes her back to his country home which is suitably mismanaged by his servants including Grumio (played with a raucous rebellion by Cerys Humphries) all under the thumb of the tyrant master himself.
Lucentio (played by Jevan Canon) and Tranio (played by John Welch) photo by Zoe Stabler and Heather Wood
Back in Padua in a supremely played out scene, Bianca is won over by Lucentio in Latin. Hortensio’s attempts to woo with his music fails miserably. Meanwhile, Tranio proffers a huge sum of money and wins approval from Baptista for Lucentio to marry Bianca. In a further complication, Baptista requires Lucentio’s father to confirm the sum of money before permitting the wedding. In desperation, Lucentio and Tranio find an old school master (played with foolery by Tom Crilly-Mc-Kean) to play the role of Lucentio’s father. Meanwhile, Lucentio and Bianca elope.
The big question is will Katherina ever be tamed?
She is ground down by Petruchio who starves her, ties her up and forces her to believe in untruths such as the sun is the moon and yet uses words of love at the same time. When both Petruchio and Katherina are on their way to meet up with Baptista in Padua, they meet Lucentio’s true father Vincentio (James Mellroy) who is on his way to see his son. Vincentio meets with Tranio (playing Lucentio) and is understandably shocked and demands to know where Lucentio is. Lucentio and Bianca turn up, just in time, spreading the news of their marriage and both fathers get to reach an agreement.
A banquet is held to celebrate Hortensio’s wedding to a widow (Emma Price). As the men feast, a game of power is played, involving a wager, to see which of the men’s wives present will obey first when summoned. Though all present expect Lucentio to win, Bianca refuses to do as requested, yet Katherina comes at her husband’s behest immediately. She even gives a speech celebrating her weakness and about how loyalty of a wife to her husband is important.
The fascinating play has to be seen in the context of the Renaissance. Marriage was a major concern of the society since marriage amongst the upper class was normally arranged for money, power, and land, despite the underlying guise of courtly or romantic love. Equally, divorce was not available to most, even if you were the king. The imposed societal demands emphasized how many men could not cope with stronger willed women. Women understandably resisted the seemingly passive role they were limited to within marriage and were, as a result, often labeled as “shrews” or “scolds” and even dunked in ponds as witches.
Katherina, early on, is clearly abhorrent about her forced role in society. This is exacerbated by the seemingly better treatment her younger sister is given, making her more rebellious and perhaps promoting feelings of insignificance, despite her strong will and intelligence. On the one hand, Petruchio is extremely chauvinistic and abuses Katherina terribly. On the other, he could be cast as showing love in a pragmatic way securing a long-term marriage, while the longer term love in the marriage between Lucentio and Bianca falls by the wayside. It may be that it is Katherina who ultimately wins by, against the odds, finding a way to fall into the role and place that society has set for her. Or perhaps, from today’s point of view she is forced to simply settle with her lot or risk appalling treatment.
Tamed? Part of the set of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (photo by Zoe Stabler and Heather Wood)
The end speech made by Katherina cannot fail to horrify. It certainly touched me:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.
. . .
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.”
For me, Shoreline Theatre’s production provided a well-timed mirror and reminder to the way the more modern liberal society we thought we knew is currently being questioned by the likes of Trump’s reported behaviour and more right-wing American society and being resisted by such actions as the recent worldwide women’s marches. Swansea Drama Society clearly worked hard on this production and they clearly enjoyed the comedy of the piece and acted as a real team. For me, they gave me food for thought on the stifling and unforgiving demands made on women which sadly still continues. Shoreline Theatre’s production had an underlying air of questioning that must also have been going on in Shakespeare’s own time. Let’s hope that essential questioning will continue and so does the fun and comedy as demonstrated by this sparkling Shoreline performance.
Katie Donovan (Katherina) said:
I’ve really enjoyed my time preparing for and performing “The Taming of the Shrew”. Playing the part of Kate proved challenging and also rewarding, as she’s a very complex character and no one really knows what she’s feeling from scene to scene – it was a lot of fun deciding that for myself as I attempted to work out her emotions and motives. In my eyes she’ll never be tamed”
Watch out for Shoreline’s next presentation of Doctor Faustus, 10th, and 11th May at 7.00pm at Swansea Grand Arts Wing. Tickets can be bought at Swansea Grand Theatre
Poster – Shoreline Theatre presents Doctor Faustus
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