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Bard medicine: Shrew stories to shake things up after lockdown

Culture

Following the final week cancellation of Glace Chase’s Triple X due to lockdown, Queensland Theatre is up and running once more as rehearsals for Taming of the Shrew commence.

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Queensland Theatre will return to its regularly scheduled programming with rehearsals for Damien Ryan’s Taming of the Shrew, which opens at the Billie Brown Theatre 8 May.

The return will follow the unfortunate cancellation of the final week of Glace Chase’s lauded Triple X which saw a highly successful run throughout March, due to travel to Sydney in July.

Ryan’s nuanced interpretation of Shakespeare’s controversial play promises to speak to the trials of womanhood in the pursuit, and refusal, of marriage.

Taming of the Shrew takes place within an Italian silent film set where a string of suitors are intent on marrying movie mogul Baptista’s daughter Bianca.

However, Bianca cannot marry until her elder sister Kate is married first, and Kate – wilful, obstinate, and anti-marriage, is viewed as a challenge to be met by Petruchio, a Navy captain searching for a wife.

Ryan is set to flip Shakespeare’s controversial and criticised play inside out, taking a more nuanced approach to its gender politics.

“In the early days of film, women were very much the stars, but fundamental to their stardom was a silencing of their voices,” said Ryan.

“It’s a paradoxical setting. The early 20th century was really a turning point, with the rise of the aviatrix, of suffragettes, and with the advent of talkies, a woman’s voice on celluloid — but only after she’s been tucked and squished, then smeared with make-up, to look the part of feminine beauty on camera.

“It’s within that illusion of power, within a world of playfulness and role playing, that we are setting Taming of the Shrew and I hope to have an enormous amount of fun!”

While previous productions of the play have been criticised for glorifying the manipulation of women who refuse passivity, Ryan has undertaken a reimagining of the play to recast Kate as a woman with more promise than problems.

Ryan said it is important to tackle parts of Shakespeare’s repertoire that are challenging and provoke controversy instead of purely the digestible works.

“The title itself lights an unmistakable fuse – why would we even want to use a word like ‘shrew’ to describe a woman in the 21st century?” he said.

“Shakespeare deliberately builds a world that Kate has to explode within, she has to fight back against this desperate place – she has to be impossible just to be heard,” he said.

“I hope to find a story of a couple that will eventually just do anything for each other, absolutely selflessly anything. Not just Kate to Petruchio, but also he, entirely to her. We have a wonderful cast to interrogate that and provoke each other and challenge the story.”

Taming of the Shrew will see Kate played by Brisbane’s Anna McGahan (Hydra, Picnic at Hanging Rock), matched against Nicholas Brown (Counting and Cracking, Amazing Grace) in his Queensland Theatre debut as the mercurial Petruchio.

Artistic Director Lee Lewis said, “I know Taming of the Shrew is complicated. Damien has said time and time again that Shakespeare wrote it to be a deliberately divisive play. But just because it’s problematic to navigate, does that mean we should put it to the back of the bookshelf?

“Artists should be brave enough to confront and own heritage works. In the right hands, with the right cast, this is a glorious play and I am eager to share Damien’s inspired, nuanced and downright hilarious interpretation of this love story with Queensland Theatre audiences.

“In this time when international travel remains impossible, Queensland Theatre is ready to sweep audiences away to Italy, if only for a night!”

The production will also mark the beginning of Queensland Theatre at home – an initiative which will allow theatre-lovers to enjoy productions from the comfort of their couch.

In partnering with Australian Theatre Live, Queensland Theatre is producing high quality, high definition recordings of three of their productions throughout the 2021 season, beginning with Taming of the Shrew.  

The digital productions series will be alleviating the troubles of the post-Covid era by allowing audiences to share in Queensland Theatres productions with loved ones who can’t join them in Brisbane – or for those who prefer to stay at home.

Taming of the Shrew begins at the Billie Brown Theatre 8 May and will run until 5 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Queensland Theatres website.

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