On Friday night I braved the weather forecast and ventured off to Bicentennial Park in Glebe to see the Sydney Shakespeare Festival’s version of ‘Taming of the Shrew’. This is currently running in rep with ‘Hamlet’ and so actors have been duly charged and challenged with learning many parts and lines this January & February.
The location of the Shakespeare Festival is certainly is a great location with the throb and lights of the city surrounding the action and an industrial speaker system and spotlight keeping us all in the action once the pseudo-summer light faded. The makeshift stage on its portable trailer is also a versatile and well-utilised design concept for either play.
Firstly, the play is a bit of fun and the actors seemed to be enjoying the open space and its proximity to the audience as part of the playing space ran between the picnic blankets and beach chairs of those watching. Sometimes the movement and conflict of stage business seems overdone but this wasn’t an issue for those lazing around, cheese and biscuit in hand (someone please remind me that the lactose intolerant aren’t cured just because you’re eating outside), getting their Friday night Shakespeare quota.
Director Julie Baz has given an active and entertaining interpretation to the play. It can skip over the fundamental feminist concern of the treatment of women and how their submission is the prime object of desire, but as a crusty middle-aged woman myself, according to modern literature I could do with a lesson in this too. Just ask any poor male who has to spend more than 10 minutes in my company. I could teach that Shrew a thing or two. In fact wouldn’t it be interesting to have Katherina played by an obvious middle-aged woman (No- I'm not looking to audition). Certainly when Petruchio claims he is “too young” for her or when Katherina’s father states he will not marry off his younger daughter Bianca “until Katherina is married” would certainly give another dimension to Shakespeare’s play.
Some actors seemed to have a better grasp of the rhythm of the language than others and it was fairly clear that the leads were more comfortable in the skin of the words- not that the production had major flaws, just some inconsistencies in conveying text and meaning to their audience. Strongest by far was John Michael Burdon (Petruchio). Having said that, no-one let down the team. Christina Falsone, Emily Elise, Nicole Wineberg, Cherilyn Price and Lana Kershaw were a strong female ensemble who all had moments of connection with audience and character, especially as many played more than one role. The guys also held their own out there in a venue of great distraction where keeping your audience engaged is certainly a tough ask.
What is also especially nice about this event was the camaraderie in the ensemble who take on roles as designers, choreographers, production assistants as well as act and direct. I think the very concept of this is a wonderful thing. January has been filled with seeing a lot of independent and alternative theatre and I have come to really appreciate the spirit and commitment of those who have been locked out of a fairly limited pool of mainstream opportunities and created their own. It’s one of the things I love about the Arts, that any venue can serve as a theatre (read Richard Schechner’s thoughts on that). I love the bravery of independent artists who realise that theatre and engaging in the empathy of the craft through any means is not dependent on waiting for the call up but in creating your own performance opportunities and for the truly dedicated, even your own theatre company. Julie Baz and David Jeffrey should be congratulated for their passion in staging the Sydney Shakespeare Festival over the last 5 years.
And the audience seemed to agree that the night was an enjoyable foray into the world of Shakespeare. It's a very user-friendly environment and evening for kids, family and friends.