Bard on the Beach’s Taming of the Shrew

William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is easily one of the funniest in the bard’s canon but also one of the most controversial by today’s standards.

Misogyny aside, the tactics used by Petruchio are a tamer version as those used in psychological warfare to turn prisoners and captives into submissive puppets. Convince them that their captors are the good guys and that compliance will be rewarded.

Bard on the Beach’s Taming of the Shrew

Director Lois Anderson stirs up Shakespeare’s script with her own unique concoction of Old West bravado and feminist guile. She shrewdly snips sections and transfers lines to shift the balance of power among the players.

However, due to the fiery nature of both main characters, some of these crucial line swaps are delivered with such speed that their significance may be lost or confusing to the audience. The end results aren’t perfectly logical but the added twists should delight and satisfy more modern sensibilities.

Kamyar Pazandeh, Kate Besworth
[Kamyar Pazandeh, Kate Besworth]

The 1870’s Old West is brought to life by Cory Sincennes’ gorgeously functional wooden double-decker set inspired by Bard’s popular 2007 cowboy rendition of Shrew. Here we meet pretty and pouty Bianca, her domineering, wily mother Baptista, Bianca’s competing suitors Hortensio and Gremio, the fiery, defiant Katherine and of course the gun-slinging Petruchio.

At its core, Shakespeare’s story is not only about the relationship between husbands and wives but also how matrimonial pairings affect their families and communities. 

Taming of the Shrew

Susinn McFlaren plays a proud and imposing Baptista who will wheel and deal to get the best bargain for her daughters. Although beset with suitors, she will not allow her younger daughter Bianca to marry unless the older Katherine is dispatched first.

With a reputation for being rude and unruly, what man would hazard such a wife? Under Anderson’s direction (and although this version of Petruchio is initially attracted by Kate’s large dowry), he is clearly smitten with her beauty and wit when they finally meet.

The two-tiered set lets the audience observe as Petruchio witnesses the town’s cruel bullying towards his beloved. Seen in this context, his future actions can be interpreted as an attempt to teach his wife how to set herself free from this oppression rather than simply imposing his will on her. He becomes her protector while still able to maintain his machismo.

Taming of the Shrew

Other than this major shift, the rest of the story remains largely unchanged. Lucentio arrives in town with his servant Tranio. His intention is to attend university but he is distracted as soon as he sees the bewitching Bianca. Trading places with Tranio, Lucentio disguises himself as a tutor in order to get close and secretly woo her.

Second suitor Hortensio does the same but without as much success, ultimately tricked and persuaded by Tranio (in disguise as Lucentio) to abandon his pursuit and marry a wealthy widow instead.

This leaves the third suitor, Gremio, to bid and barter with Baptista for Bianca’s hand. He’s no match for the crafty Tranio who promises much more than his master owns. This sub-plot serves to further emphasize the world of powerlessness that women like Kate desperately seek to escape.

Jennifer Lines, Andrew McNee
[Jennifer Lines, Andrew McNee]

Jennifer Lines and Andrew McNee play off one other with buoyancy, passion and gusto. Lines poignantly conveys Kate’s frustrations, sometimes bordering on madness, yet her character is more playful than cruel.

McNee’s Petruchio has cool swagger and the gun-slinging bachelor is willing to engage in Kate’s game. He confidently deflects her rebellious protestations as if lined with a coating of Teflon. Anton Lipovetsky’s performance draws peals of laughter and applause as the awkward and blundering Hortensio. Equally notable is Kate Besworth’s portrayal of Bianca. Innocent and sweet, but a perfectly vexing ninny!

Kate Besworth, Jennifer Lines
[Kate Besworth, Jennifer Lines]

The late Marc Desormeaux composed Bard’s 2007 original score for the spaghetti-western comedy. Sound designer Malcolm Dow re-worked those pieces, adding his own flair and timing to convey the personality of the town.

As always, Gerald King’s perceptive lighting adds touches of light-heartedness or gravitas wherever a scene requires it. Mara Gottler‘s costume designs are utterly magnificent and impeccably match each character. Bianca’s frocks are outrageous and flirty while Kate’s corsets are heavy and constraining. Lucentio’s cape is plush and fancy, contrasting with Petruchio’s easy lived-in style.

The Taming of the Shrew kicks off Bard on the Beach’s 30th season. Judging by the standing ovation on opening night, this re-imagined show is a crowd pleaser and continues at the BMO Mainstage until September 21.

Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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