Both programs of the Montague Basement’s double bill of The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth have an emphasis on whether or not Shakespeare is still relevant today. As the program for Taming of the Shrew points out, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which begs the question: Is Shakespeare even worth performing today?
The Taming of the Shrew is polemic in its response. The story of the shrewish Katherine, who on order of their father Baptista must marry before her pleasant sister, Bianca, can, is one that I first encountered in Ten Things I Hate About You, which was just about the peak of interest I had in the play. Other encounters with it have left me frustrated and bored with the misogyny and the writing, which is amongst the thinnest of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I was pleasantly surprised by director Caitlin West’s take on the play. While at first it seems that the production does as previous productions have, and attempt to gloss over the abuse at the heart of the play with slapstick and focusing on the light-hearted romance between Bianca and Lucentio soon lifts the veil and expresses Katherine’s relationship with Petruchio in a way that suggests a strikingly relevant story of domestic violence, hidden amongst the frivolity of the other scenes.
The contrast between the scenes which depict their home life and the comedy of life in Padua, where Katherine has left (Travis Ash as Baptiste is an excellent stiff, straight foil to Robert Boddington’s oafish Petruchio) is used to chilling effect. As in real life, the violence is not an aberration, sealed away from polite society, but a hidden part of it. Katherine’s mental agony is contrasted against the well-ironed dress chinos, pop music, and sense of frivolity of the other parts of the play to devastating effect. That said, the first half does feel a little hectic and breathless amongst the humour, but by its end it feels worth it. The final scene, in which Katherine finally submits to her husband and renounces her shrewish husband, was written as a happy one by Shakespeare, but here Hannah Cox performs a perfect portrait of a broken woman. For injecting life, vigour, and political commentary into what I thought was an irretrievably horrendous play, I must end this review by saying that Montague Basement’s The Taming of the Shrew is a must-see.
Event Dates: 30 November, 2 December, 3 December, 6 December, 8 December, 10 December
Venue: PACT Centre for Performing Arts
Running Time: 75 minutes no interval.
Ticket Prices: Adult $25.00, Concession $20.00
Macbeth is less evocative and more ambiguous than its counterpart. Rather than shining a light on social issues as in Taming, Macbeth brings out the timeless psychological horror of the original text. It too takes some risks: There is much double-casting, costuming and the stage are strictly monochromatic, and the three witches are replaced by one witch, played by a very engaging Lulu Howes, who plays a much more adversarial role to Macbeth than is usual. In note of that last point: This Macbeth seems much more interested in the existential conflicts of the play than the conflicts between characters, so that the relationships come across as somewhat weakly developed. When martial violence happens, it leans on the symbolic, which only occasionally convinces.
However, Lady Macbeth is played well, giving off vibrations of a sensible, manipulative businesswoman alongside her tortured soldier of a husband, but the relationship between two fails to engage. However, this Macbeth is more interested in the primal aspects of the play than the dynamics between character, depicted through the frequent use of the aforementioned slime, fake blood, and ghoulish props, including a particularly creepy baby doll. As Macbeth’s sins stack around him, the white stage becomes more and more slicked with mess, an effect which works to great effect.
While this is certainly one way to do Macbeth, it may not work best for everyone. The viscera and spectacle are a delight, and certainly make for an evening of solid entertainment, but those expecting a more subtle, character-driven Macbeth may be left disappointed. Still, this is one of the most memorable, exciting adaptations of Macbeth I have encountered.
Event Dates: 29 November, 1 December, 3 December (2:00pm matinee), 7 December, 9 December, 10 December
Venue: PACT Centre for Performing Arts
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Ticket Prices: Adult $25.00, Concession $10.00