William Shakespeare's dark comedy The Taming of the Shrew was the first play put on in Cape Town's Open Air Theatre at Maynardville, way back in 1956. Since then it has been produced at the theatre four times, the last in 2011. Now only seven years later it is on again, currently showing at Maynardville until 1 March 2018.
Accompanied by my journo daughter to the opening night of Maynardville’s sixth showing of The Shrew with our obligatory blankies, woolly beanies and cushions, collecting a complimentary glass of wine on our way in. It was a warm, windless evening but then we were both feeling the last effects of head colds - so good to be comfy.
Naledi Majola and Kathleen Stephens - image by Jesse Kramer
Intriguingly, this year Maynardville’s offering has an all-female cast. It seems this is the first time for the theatre, but I wonder if a Shakespeare play has had an all-female cast anywhere else in the world? Intriguing because in Shakespeare’s day his players were all male, with men, or boys, taking the female parts. In addition, the play is produced and directed by a woman, Tara Notcutt, supported by an all-female creative team managing the lights, designing sets and costumes and providing voice coaching. This in a way reprises the first showing of The Shrew at Maynardville, as it was the initiative of two South African female actors, who for many years kept Shakespeare going in Cape Town’s open air.
An all-female cast and creative team will stage William Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew at the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre from 7 February 2018 until 3 March 2018.
8 Jan 2018
Prolific Tara Notcutt (who has directed 50 productions in her 31 years!) gives the play a modern touch, with the actors at times lip-syncing and miming to popular music of the current century. My own knowledge of modern music has been left in the last millennium, not reaching hip-hop or rap. No worries, as my 30-something daughter identified songs by Beyoncé, Eminem, Missy Eliot, Offspring and Snoop Dogg, among others. The musical interludes went down well with audience hand clapping and the odd cheer, so kudos to choreographer Cleo Notcutt. Lighting by Ronel Jordaan, assisted by Ameera Conrad (who came on as the widow to marry Hortensio - Kate Pinchuck), near the end of the play worked well for what was a minimalist set.
Alicia McCormick and Daneel van der Walt - image by Jesse Kramer
The lead roles were taken by Alicia McCormick as Katherina Baptista (Kate, the shrew of the play’s title) and her suitor Daneel van der Walt as Petruchio. Van der Walt was excellent in the role, with masculinity to the fore; difficult for me to keep in mind it was a woman in a man’s part, she was so convincing. McCormick made a quirky Kate, perhaps not as shrewish as some. But once she had submitted to Petruchio she was also convincing. If you are going to see the play, wait for after the interval when you may learn more about Kate’s crinoline than you would expect!
Among the other actors, my favourite (as it was in the 2011 version) was Grumio (Petruchio’s servant), this time excellently acted by Ann Juries, who made much of the goofy part, causing much hilarity in the audience, including loud shrieks and guffaws from the couple immediately behind us. Again, her assured acting made me forget her real gender. I also particularly liked Bianca Baptista’s (Buhle Ngaba) older – and unsuccessful – suitor, Gremio (Dianne Simpson), who hobbled and quivered around the stage as an old man approaching senility.
Ann Juries and Kate Pinchuck - image by Jesse Kramer
A farce or misogyny
Now to the elephant in the room. The Taming of the Shrew has always been a controversial play, even I read from the time of its first productions over four centuries ago. What was in Shakespeare’s mind? Was he condoning Petruchio’s undoubted cruelty in taming his new wife (behaving badly at the wedding ceremony, withholding her food, etc.)? Nowadays, such boorish behaviour would be an anathema, at least in the western world. One theory (there is a number out there) is that the Bard was being ironic and was posting a message of how husbands should not behave to their wives. It seems that at the time of writing in England in the 1590s wife beating as an approved method of discipline was on the wane - so maybe so. A telling point, perhaps is that The Taming of the Shrew is a ‘play within a play’, as is explained in the opening scene, so Shakespeare was in effect saying to his audience this is not a real story, but just a farce not to be taken too literally.
My sometime theatre-going cat Thomas Marmalade (well he did review Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats on this website - and liked it) occasionally catches a shrew in our shared garden in Rondebosch. They seem to be inoffensive enough little animals, so perhaps the European shrew that Shakespeare would have known has a somewhat different manner.
Whatever Shakespeare had in mind – and we shall never really know – having such an overtly misogynistic play presented by an all-female cast and company can be seen as falling within the feminist tradition: women can succeed in anything they put their mind to and will no longer acquiesce to sexual harassment and the like as witnessed by the #MeToo movement. Pleasing then that I started to write this review the day after watching the production on the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and a week before 75 female scientists leave for Antarctica on the second all-women Homeward Bound Expedition (two of my ex-colleagues were on the first, a third goes south next year). Like this year’s play, no men required!
Ann Juries, Naledi Majola, Lynita Crofford, Kate Pinchuck, Masali Baduza - image by Jesse Kramer
The Taming of the Shrew will run until 1 March 2018 at 8.15pm Monday to Saturdays. Tickets cost from R150 to R220. Bookings will be through Computicket on 0861 915 8000, online at www.computicket.com or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet.
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