THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. Directed by Tara Notcutt. Assistant director: Dara Beth. With Alicia McCormick, Daneel van der Walt, Buhle Ngaba, Lynita Crofford, Ann Juries, Dianne Simpson, Naledi Majola, Kathleen Stephens, Kate Pinchuck and Masali Baduza. Costume design: Mariechen Vosloo. Decor: Jo Glanville. Lighting design: Ronel Jordaan. Choreography: Cleo Notcutt. Maynardville Open air theatre.

Pictures: Jesse Kramer

KAREN RUTTER reviews

To call Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew a comedy is like saying Milli Vanilli were good singers. Not.

(*Note to younger readers: Google ’em.)

Likewise, to label this play as feminist, or ironic, as some would have it, is as ridiculous. Shakespeare’s canon isn’t exactly endowed with powerful women role models: Lady Macbeth (crazy); Ophelia (mental); Goneril (obsessed); Juliet (doomed); Miranda (minion); The Nurse (domestic labourer); not anything you’d put in a CV under “Where I’d like to be in ten years”.

And The Shrew’s Katherina is no exception. “Independent woman bartered into an abusive marriage and bludgeoned into submission.” Yup, that’s a position to aspire to.

'The Taming of the Shrew'

The Taming of the Shrew is a bleak, misogynist narrative that may very well have reflected a sense of humour in Willy the Shake’s time, but more sadly, is a devastating mirror on gender relations in our own era. And herein lies the brilliance of director Tara Notcutt’s interpretation. Without foregoing the frivolity of the play – and there are moments of great playfulness and delight – she skilfully winds these segments together into a denouement that turns the very script on its head and exposes its essential horror.

So many times, and in different hands, the ending of The Shrew has dissolved into the punchline to a sexist joke: “She wanted it anyway. Phwoah.” But in the wake of the #MeToo campaign and the daily reality of regional patriarchal violence, Notcutt’s chilling conclusion has a sombre and sober resonance. The most awesome part is that she lets the words speak for themselves. No editing here – it’s all from The Bard’s mouth. Go Willy.

But backing up a bit. In brief, The Taming of the Shrew is about two sisters, one assertive (Katherina), the other acquiescent (Bianca). Their father wants to marry them off, but says he will only let the easy one go when the difficult one has wed. Seriously. Katherina ends up with a dude called Petruchio who starves her and makes her do stuff like say the moon is actually the sun, until eventually she stops being so lippy and listens to him. Then everybody is happy and some other people also get married.

'The Taming of the Shrew'

Progressive, contemporary interpretation

This version of The Shrew is an all-female production. (Funny how other shows that may be all male never get the same tagline, but hey, we take what we can get.)  And it’s an impressive showcase on all counts. As mentioned, Notcutt has done an incredible job with her contemporary interpretation, firstly bringing in a broad progressive eye and then focusing on individual aspects. Modern  references abound, from cellphone dialogue to street slang. The choreography is fresh. The costumes are smack. The accents range from Durban to Downton Abbey. The music … feckin’ fly. The Bard meets Beyonce. Cool.

And the performances – phew. Hard to single people out, but Kate Pinchuck’s portrayal of Hortensio has a jiggy Melissa McCarthy edge that is awkwardly delicious, Ann Juries has a cute presence as Grumio, Lynita Crofford oozes cool, professional slick and Buhle Ngaba looks like she is having such fun in her kugel get up.

'The Taming of the Shrew'

Funky, hip and easy on the eye

But the kudos have to go to both Alicia McCormick as Katherina and Daneel van der Walt as Petruchio. Neither of them overplay what could be such easy roles to vamp – femme and butch. Instead, they pull on their parts like second skins, and make them all the more compelling and tragically credible as the narrative progresses. Thoroughly engaging performances.

Tara Notcutt’s version of The Taming of the Shrew is funky, hip and very easy on the eye. It’s also smart, dark and brutally honest. It’s not really a comedy. Unless you think jokes about women knowing their place are funny. In which case – #FYou.

What: The Taming of the Shrew

Where and when: Maynardville Open-Air Theatre until 3 March 2018

Book: Computicket

WS