I’ve seen some very good productions of Shakespeare’s work, including ones by the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company in England and by the magnificent Bell Shakespeare Company here in Australia. I’ve also seen some very mediocre productions from companies who feel they must perform Shakespeare to be considered a “real” theatre company and yet don’t have the talent to pull it off. Let’s face it Shakespeare is hard work for directors and actors alike and professional companies dedicated to producing his plays have set very high benchmarks which most amateur groups would find hard to reach.
Having headed off to Brisbane Arts Theatre with this in mind, it was very pleasing indeed to see that the cast and crew of The Taming of the Shrew make this Shakespeare stuff all seem so easy in what is a most satisfying night of theatre. Director Pat Wallace has assembled a talented and versatile cast. In front of Una Hollingworth’s simple but effective set, Wallace has created an environment in which the actors move effortlessly through the play as a unified and cohesive ensemble.
Witnessing such brilliant ensemble work makes it difficult to select a handful of stand-out performances as each actor plays their part in making the show the success that it is. Having said that however, it would be remiss of me not to applaud Ross Balbuziente and Louise Marshall. As the central characters of Petruchio and Katharina (the shrew that must be tamed), these two actors deliver fine performances. Both obviously relish the chance to play these wonderful characters and work extremely well together throughout.
Also worthy of special mention are Ian Peters as the splendidly comical Gremio, Peter Settle as the dottery old manservant Grumio, Gerry Lowley as the wonderfully camp Tailor and the man who plays Curtis (who for some reason does not appear in the program). Younger members of the cast who play various other roles would undoubtedly be learning a great deal from these accomplished actors.
So the acting is excellent, the directing is brilliant and the set effective is there anything negative to say, you ask? Well, I have to say that the play is a tad long and could be edited a little. The use of a singer and musician to entertain during scene changes is a nice touch but lengthens the already-long play a little too much. Secondly, while costuming is for the most part excellent, I suggest ditching the men’s brown Grosby slippers and the cook’s beard. I found these items detracted from what was essentially an extremely well-costumed cast. But if these two minor quibbles are all a critic can find to criticise … well, you work it out.
If you are one of the many theatre-goers who shy away from Shakespeare perhaps you have some awful schoolroom memory of being forced to recite endless passages of text in a less than creative atmosphere then this could well be the production that changes your thinking. Those who go along will be charmed by the wit and wonder of one of the Bard’s best and most accessible comedies, performed most admirably by Brisbane Arts Theatre.