When you go to the preview night for a Bell Shakespeare production, it could be for one of two reasons: either you’re too stingy to pay full price, or you’re so damn keen you couldn’t wait… I fall into both categories.
If you’ve read any of the publicity about this production of The Taming of the Shrew, you will probably be aware that it sports an all-female cast. Of course the history of the play’s interpretation, especially in the last century, is all about its gender politics. And rightly so, since it is a theme that cannot be divorced from Shakespeare’s text. But having seen it, I wonder whether the decision to use an all-female cast really entered into the play’s production process. I think it felt more like an academic exercise. A valid and interesting academic exercise, perhaps, but not as exciting as Shakespeare can be when he is lifted above the realm of the rational.
Petruchio is the character that stands to lose the most in being played by a woman, but Jeanette Cronin delivers a slightly insane Petruchio with a singularly spectacular performance. Luisa Hastings Edge likewise delivers a fully engaging and well-rounded Lucentio. Unfortunately, in the case of the remaining male characters, their female performers fail to deliver an entirely engaging performance.
Of course, this may be intentional. Perhaps Director Marion Potts meant for the disjuncture between the performer and character to accentuate our modern discomfort with the shrew’s taming? Perhaps. But if this was the case, it’s unfortunate that it leaves the audience simply uncomfortable and not sure why. Even if the other male characters had been better played by their performers, I still feel that the all-female cast idea would amount to little more than an academic exercise or marketing ploy, offering no enhancement to the production.
I don’t mean to be too heavily critical of Bell’s production, nor of the other performers playing male roles. Despite the unnecessary distraction of the female performers, the production as a whole is excellent, eliciting plenty of laughter and pathos even from a tired old cynic like me.
I especially liked the setting, which immediately put me in mind of Rooty Hill RSL, until I realised that there is no way there’d be five mirror balls at Rooty Hill, and this must therefore certainly be modelled after Parramatta RSL. The use of Karaoke is a nice touch, and I still have Culture Club lyrics swimming around in my head.
So apart from bearing perhaps a little too much concern for its gender politics, I think Marion Potts should be congratulated on a great production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.