Review: The Taming of the Shrew by Bard on the Beach
Bard on the Beach has launched its 23rd season in Vanier Park with a boisterous, rollicking production of Shakespeare’s great comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. Director Meg Roe, a jewel of Vancouver’s theatre community, crafts a fast-paced, colourful, and borderline cartoon-ish world, populated with heightened, larger-than-life versions of the bard’s familiar characters.
The story is Shakespearean comedy at its best: a complex mess of circumstance that can only be resolved through assumed disguises, scheming servants, battles of wits, and love triumphant. At its heart are Baptista’s (Bernard Cuffling) two daughters; the younger, Bianca (Dawn Petten) is a sweet and adored vision of femininity, while the elder, Kate (Lois Anderson), is the eponymous shrew, a disagreeable hellion. Though Bianca has many suitors, Baptista will not allow her to marry until after Kate has found a husband.
When brash, swaggering Petruchio (John Murphy) arrives in Padua looking for a wife, Bianca’s many suitors convince him to pursue Kate and her ample dowry. As Petruchio sets out to tame this shrew, Bianca’s suitors clamor to secure the younger daughter’s affections.
The play is always a silly affair, filled with machismo and posturing, but Bard on the Beach’s production ups the ante far beyond the norm, moving it into a heightened reality that nimbly capers at the border between comedy and farce.
The exaggerated nature of its setting is cleverly introduced through the costume designers of Mara Gottler. The characters’ garb sets the action in early 19th century Italy, but the Empire-era fashions are set off with subtle hints of absurdity: here a top hat is just a bit too elongated, there a gown has a ridiculous excess of lace. The touches are delicate, but more than enough to establish that these over-the-top characters reside on a plane of comic reality above our own.
The inhabitants of this madcap world are portrayed by an incredible cast of local legends and rising stars. In the lead role of Petruchio, John Murphy gives a fresh, sly performance that will surely be looked back upon as a career highlight. With a rich, booming voice, he is the picture of overbearing, masculine confidence, yet for all the bravura, there is ever a sense of warmth, playfulness, and winking delight just beneath the surface. He was especially humorous when paired with his man-servant Grumio (Kayvon Kelly, who may be channeling ‘Charlie’ from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), as the duo’s interactions crackled with perfect timing and joyous wordplay.
Lois Anderson’s eponymous shrew is a hilarious terror. She avoids the increasingly common, apologetic approach of playing an ‘out-of-her-time’ feminist, and instead revels in the vitriol, shrillness, and red-hot rage of Kate. Paired with Murphy’s patient and firm Petruchio, their unconventional courtship is a delight to behold.
The rest of the characters are similarly exaggerated animations, and are brilliantly pulled off by an ensemble of gifted actors and comedians. Together, they paint an antic-filled, two-dimensional world where the bard’s wit gleams in a heightened and giddy light.
The Taming of the Shrew runs until September 22, 2012 at Vanier Park. Tickets & info at Bardonthebeach.org.