Two perspectives of The Taming of the Shrew

Reviewed by Annemarie Quill

Set in the dwindling light of a summer's day, on a cobblestoned crossroads of Tauranga's Historic Village, director Gin Mabey has created an exuberant interpretation of the William Shakespeare comedy The Taming of the Shrew.

It is significant that it's a female director and producer (Nadine Tibbits produces and stars in the lead role of Katherina, the eponymous "shrew"). For it is a play around which controversy swirls – particularly from a female perspective.

Is this a love story, a parody or a celebration of misogyny?

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Katherina's father Baptista (Paul Mabey) declares she must get married before her sister Bianca (Erika Stols), who has a bevvy of suitors.

Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship, at first, until Petruchio "tames" her with psychological torture.

He stops her eating when she is starving, sends away a beautiful dress and hat, and challenges her previous fighting talk by confusing her so much she finally agrees the sun is the moon.

It could be interpreted that the Bard is being ironic as suggested by the framing device of the story.

Or that it is a love story along the lines of Fifty Shades of Grey, that Katherina finds her perfect match in someone able to dominate her.

The confusing array of characters who practise deceit by pretending to be someone else leave the audience questioning the characters' motives as well as the playwright's.

There are plenty of laughs, the talented cast storm through the dialogue and move through the stage space making it very entertaining to listen and watch.

But on a day when New Zealand is celebrating news of our youngest female unmarried Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's pregnancy and all the girl power and girl boss vibes that go with it, there is something uncomfortable in 2018 about watching Petruchio's torture of Kate, and her seeming subservience.

As well as the message that a strong, confident and opinionated woman needs to change before she will be desired by others.

Frewin plays the part so well that when he leaps off the stage claiming victory about her taming I want to leap up and shout "no". I hated him. Brilliant acting.

Tibbets also excels as the complex Kate…in her end speech calling all women to bow to their men, she has lost none of the fire of her first scene making us ask if she playing with us all, and that she is still a woman making up her own mind in contrast to the demure Bianca who faces life with a Lucentio, a man who can't tell the truth, having tricked his way into her bed.

Ryan Wood plays Lucentio very well, toying with our perceptions – is he the starstruck poetic lover or just after her money?

Jaden McLeod as Vincentio, the father of Lucentio, is a hilarious burst of energy with his facials of confusion with all the charades and various disguises of the characters helping the audience work out who is really who as the play gallops to its final scenes in a giddy unveiling of truths and untruths.

Paul Mabey is the calm voice of reason offsetting the flamboyance of Petruchio, although the audience might question why he would want his daughter to marry either a bullying Petruchio or a devious Lucentio.

Despite Kate's seeming happiness with her lot at the end, it is unnerving to see her skip along the dark cobblestoned street with Petruchio to drunken cheers about her taming.

It left me questioning, wondering, and wanting to debate it like all good Shakespeare does.

The crowd exited the village talking excitedly, it's the sign of a great performance.

Don't miss this treat. I would go and watch it again.


Reviewed by Paul Chapman

"Of all mad matches never was the like," says Tranio (Rosie Potter) in a perfect summary of the comical chaos unfolding before our eyes.

The fast-paced wooing, wedding and bedding of the terrifyingly ferocious Katherine (Nadine Tibbits) by the madcap Petruchio (Dylan Frewin) makes The Taming of the Shrew one of the most joyous of Shakespeare's comedies.

Tibbits and Frewin are faultless in their leading roles as the sharp-tongued "Kate the cursed" – the daughter Signor Baptista (Paul Mabey) is determined to rid himself of before he allows her younger sister Bianca (Erika Stols) to be married – and her equally strong-willed wooer.

They are ably supported by a strong cast in this year's offering by Summer Shakespeare Tauranga, in the delightful outdoor setting of the cobblestone streets of the Historic Village.

Having suffered the frustration of postponing opening night by 24 hours due to Thursday's downpours, ever the risk outdoor productions must live with, the enthusiastic actors were ready to give of their best before an appreciative audience on Friday.

The laughter flowed as Petruchio, aided by his brow-beaten servant Grumio (James Cowie), rushed in where others feared to tread, finally "taming" the Shrew from the magical moment his tender "Kiss me, Kate" transformed a tartar of a spinster into a loving wife.

Director Gin Mabey – who also takes the part of Gremio, one of several characters seeking Bianca's hand – has skilfully steered her way through a plot peppered with disguises and imposters.

The final scene, which can prove a problem for some modern directors who worry it portrays female subservience, worked like a charm as Mabey brought out its true meaning – that the deep love Petruchio and Katherine have developed for one another outshines anything experienced by their more staid and conventional rivals.

Their unorthodox passion is a kind of crazy conspiracy against the world.

Costumes were stylish, with the play set in the first half of the 20th century, and the staging, lighting and sound were all accomplished with the same slick professionalism we have come to expect from the Summer Shakespeare company.

All credit to the dedicated production team for helping put Tauranga on the cultural map with their lively annual serving of the Bard outdoors.

You can catch this enjoyable show until January 28.

Tickets are available from Eventfinda or at the gate. In the event of rain cancelling any performance, pre-purchased tickets remain valid for any subsequent night.