Reviewed by John Smythe, 18 Feb 2009
Outrageous Fortune meets Footrot Flats: that's the look, anyway, of the costume choices for Katherina and Petruchio in this all-woman Bard in the Yard production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by John Marwick as the Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe's contribution to Fringe 09 and the Compleate Workes project.
Not that Katherina and her sister Bianca are bogans born and bred, they're too well-spoken for that. But each has rebelled in her own way against their more respectable father, Baptista Minola; if the feral Katherina is redolent of Cheryl West (sans cigs), Bianca is more Pascalle.
Petruchio might be all black singlet and gumboots, but he's doing pretty well given the number of blokes working on his backblocks property. While other men vie to woo the sexy and manipulative Bianca, he relishes the challenge offered by "Katherina the curs'd". And Baptista has decreed she must be wed first before Bianca goes.
The way Liz Sugrue and Rowan Macrae work it through, Pet and Kat instantly see their match in the other and so play the game full on and for keeps. A line in Katherina's controversial final scene speech, "That seeming to be most which we indeed least are" seems to be the key: Petruchio knows she's wired to be loyal and loving, and that she's protecting that vulnerability with her stroppiness; Katherina knows he is a lovely big softie beneath his 'dog boss' exterior. They just need to know it's finally safe to let their guards down ...
Ideologically correct sexual politics aside, there are plenty of real-life examples to validate this behaviour and it's this core of truth that gives this production its spine. But despite a number of other good performances, a few players have yet to pursue a stronger intention than remembering their lines and this tends to weaken the sub-plots.
Elspeth Harris is deliciously manipulative as Bianca and Florence McFarlane nails old Gremio so clearly - got up as a fairground impresario and/or successful gambler - that it's hard not to see them best suited to each other. Harris and McFarlane also offer excellent cameos as a tailor and haberdasher respectively.
Other strong performances include Kat Angus as Hortensio, Tamsin Bertaud-Gandar as Biondello, Sarah-Rose Burke as Grumio and Sue Jones, contrasting a Cooch-like Curtis with a gentlemanly Vincentio.
As an ensemble the 12-strong cast gives good support to the on-stage action with collective reactions and live sound effects. In place of the induction, the actors arrive in branded t-shirts, bop to 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' then change into costume in front of us, which takes a while. The ghetto-blaster music backing is weak, and when it failed briefly, on opening night, and the cast spontaneously sang live, I couldn't help feeling that was better.
The Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe has set a good standard with their annual Bard in the Yard productions. The Taming of the Shrew is a well-conceived addition, intelligently approached with strong central performances and a clear intention to share the fun.