The Taming of the Shrew

Dates 31 May - 23 September 2007 @ 20.00 Venue Mainstage Tent, Vanier Park

Director Miles Potter

Reviewer John Jane

Bard on the Beach open their 18th season with a hilarious, over-the-top production of Shakespeare’s warning of the minefield of matrimony, The Taming of the Shrew.

Over the preceding 17 years, BOTB patrons have come to expect the best. They haven’t always got it – often the desire to do something different with such familiar fare has caused the best of the Bard to be ruthlessly discarded.

However, future attendees to this play need have no feelings of trepidation about Miles Potter’s adaptation. Despite coming perilously close to comic farce midway through the second act, it has pace, panache and bales of humour. Though likely to be disdained by ardent Shakespeare devotees, Potter’s frontier motif works well in the charmed atmosphere of Vanier Park; a venue that serves to encourage broad attendance and openness to such theatrical events.

Potter probably realizes that some people would be uncomfortable with a serious account of Petrucio's treatment of Katherina - he starves her of food and deprives her of sleep, all for the purpose of forcing her to become the dutiful wife. The canny director therefore attempts to balance boisterous schtick with the play's antipathetic sub-text.

One of the reasons the whole thing works so well is the performances of Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler as the central characters, Petrucio and Katherina. Frazer as Petrucio offers no apology, nor asks any forgiveness for his “blunt behaviour.” Looking very Eastwoodesque in blue jeans, cowboy boots and storm coat, as his flashy stage entrance is heralded by Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western theme.

Ms Wheeler is larger-than-life as the feisty Katherina. Given to indiscriminate bursts of aggressive physicality and fits of anger that seem to come from nowhere, she is every part of the “irksome, brawling scold.” As Katherina she is wooed, and ostensibly, tamed by Petrucio, yet she artfully leaves the audience with the question of whether the taming is genuine or if she has simply adapted to a situation that may only be temporary.

Frazer and Wheeler get strong support from Haig Sutherland as the oft-bewildered Hortensio and Naomi Wright as the coquettish Bianca, Katherina’s younger sister who skillfully shows various facets of her character. Even artistic director Christopher Gaze shows that he’s not afraid to ham it up in the cameo role, Man from Mantua.

Did Michael Scholar Jr. base his loopy character, Tranio on outrageous choreographer, Bruno Tonioli? Scholar’s off-the-wall performance was hardly classic Bard, but hearing Shakespeare articulated in a Tex-Mex accent supplied plenty of comical moments.

Kevin McAllister does a lot with little on a sepia hued set that served as Baptista’s house and Petrucio's ranch, while Valerie Easton’s choreography stood-out with a high-spirited square dance at the final marriage banquet.

Perhaps the play is intended to be far more complex than its generally perceived simple interpretation. Even if the Bard did not intend to be ironic, I’m sure Miles Potter did – it seems Vancouver audiences enjoy Shakespeare’s comedies served with plenty of ham.

© 2007 John Jane