A balmy summer evening, a picnic in the surrounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens, champagne, and a little bit of Shakespeare. The Australian Shakespeare Company really is onto something. Just remember to bring your winter woollies if you’re not lucky enough to get a warm summer night!
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is a classic comedy of match-making, complete with deception and dodgy disguises. It is also one of Shakespeare’s most controversial comedies in its depiction of women and gender roles. Was Shakespeare simply a misogynist, or was he perhaps critiquing his society by holding a mirror up to it? In performance, it seems to come down to the interpretation of the text.
Glenn Elston’s production, which omits the prologue that presents the play as a play-within-a-play (get that?), is a mix of the old and the new. Laugh out loud contemporary references litter Shakespeare’s poetry, giving the production a lovely lightness and sense of fun. But Katherina’s (Lucy Slattery) famously controversial concluding speech, in which she professes her obedience and utter submission to Petruchio (Brendan O’Connor), seemed to jar slightly with contemporary Australian values of equality. In contrast to the over-the-top exuberance of the rest of the production, Katherina’s final address was presented with an incredible sincerity and earnestness, losing any sense of irony or wit and demolishing the character’s strength. It was hard not to look at the numerous canoodling couples in the audience and wonder what they made of it. Without a prologue or some kind of context, the end was unsettling and a little disappointing after the wonderful buoyancy and comic farce of the rest of the production.
As Katherina, Slattery performed with great energy and nuance, creating a very complex character who transitions from the extreme of scolding independence to apparent surrender as she is wooed by Petruchio.
O’Connor, Katherina’s corset-wearing, pimped-up jeep riding suitor, was nothing short of fabulous. Performing with a seemingly infinite supply of energy, O’Connor oozed the arrogant confidence and eccentric charm of his character. In contrast to Katherina, Petruchio was portrayed with a knowing sense of contemporary life, even referencing Germaine Greer.
Perhaps Katherina, too, needs to be portrayed with a greater sense of knowing in twenty-first century Australia – and be a bit more shrewd.
Australian Shakespeare Company presents
The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare
Venue: Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne | Enter Observatory Gate on Birdwood Avenue
Dates/Times: Tuesday to Sunday @ 8.30pm through January and Tuesday to Saturday @ 8pm through February until March 14th
Bookings: 1300 122 344 www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au or Ticketmaster 136 100