First published in the Cape Times, 25 January 2011

Roll up, roll up, Shakespeare’s Circus is here!  Roy Sargeant has gone completely bonkers during this production of The Taming of the Shrew; but in a very funny ha-ha, kind-of-way.  As it stands, the dialogue and action in the play is already very comical.  Add to this Sargeant’s peculiar humour and quest for adventure, a dazzling and passionate cast, superb costumes, fabulous set designs and puppets, and you will find yourself drenched in an enjoyable production.

Sargeant’s, The Shrew, takes place in a seedy bar in Cape Town; present time. However, the performance is a play within a dream, so most of the dreamer’s action takes places in Padua and the countryside in Verona.  The typical Italian passion for amorous love, romance, melodrama and outrageously sexy clothes fits the production like cappuccino fits brioche.  The farcical story of men deeply in lust, women playing hard to get, mistaken identities, and a father desperate to make a quick buck before his daughter gets too old, has Italian high-drama and humour dribbled all over it.  It does feel as if Sargeant has used some of the filmmaker and actor, Federico Fellini’s, creative brush to colour in his production; to great effect.    Dicky Longhurst’s set designs and costumes are dreamy, decadent and filled with wicked imagination and wit.  

Lion and Troilus the Spaniel

Grant Swanby plays the dreamer, Petruchio, who believes he is a noble man that has to win the hand of a rich woman, The Shrew, played by Anthea Thompson.  Wildly insulting words start to fly the minute Petruchio and his betrothed, Katherina meet.  Katherina is a hard-headed, woman with a motor-mouth that is determined to hang on to her independence.  Petruchio is determined to tame this wild creature.  As with many a tempestuous love affair, on stage anyway, true and immovable love follows. 

The sub-plot involves Bianca, played by Alex Halligey, who’s the younger sister of Katherina. Bianca may not be married unless the difficult older sister is safely disposed of. Subservient and gorgeous, Bianca becomes the object of desire of three suitors, with many hilarious side-effects.  The Taming of the Shrew has been accused of being somewhat misogynistic by hard-core feminists. Considering the time when the play was released, around 1596, I think it might be safe to sit back and laugh at the characters that simply reflect the attitudes of their time and be sure that the battle of the sexes will continue ad infinitum; even though we like to think it’s a more sophisticated affair these days. 

There is a luminous energy between Swanby and Thompson that grows as the production moves along a fast pace.  For me Juliet Jenkin, playing Grumio the clown, only really comes into her own during the second half where she, at times, threatens to steal the show. Another wicked performance is delivered by Darron Araujo who plays Tranio, servant to Lucentio, which is one of Bianca’s three suitors.  Lucentio and Tranio decide to swap identities in a bid to improve Lucentio’s changes to win the heart and hand of the pretty Bianca.  Araujo plays the hilarious stereotypical Italian with great finesse and hilarity. Again there are strong Fellini- the actor- flavours throughout Araujo’s performance.   

Darron Araujo and Francis Chouler

Darron Araujo and Francis Chouler

John Caviggia, playing The Widow that steals the heart, kind of, of one of Bianca’s suitors does a brief but legendary appearance in the most marvellous purple frock. And Jeroen Kranenburg as the Lucentio’s father also gives a dashing performance.

With such a great cast making up the whole of a super production it’s difficult to mention them all but a round of applause must go to the puppet handlers.  The puppets have been created by The Little Marionette Company. I will not give away too much, the surprises are part of the magic, but the handlers, Dewald van Zyl; Richard Lothian; James MacGregor; and Michael Inglis, do such an outstanding job that you will be wiping you eyes in disbelief.  Then there’s the colourful and energetic circus performers that add a burlesque, Cirque du Soleil, and fantastical element to the play. During the last few acts, the pace is stepped up even more, as the story unfurls out of itself in a very satisfying manner. Chances are that a second or third viewing will be even more satisfying as you find opportunity to revel in all the detail.  I suspect that if Shakespeare is watching this production from above, or below, he will be laughing his head off.

The Taming of the Shrew, review by ASTRID STARK.  Directed by Roy Sargeant.  Set and Costume Designs by Dicky Longhurst. Lighting Design by Faheem Bardien. Main actors: Adrian Galley,  Anthea Thompson, Grant Swanby, Juliet Jenkin, Richard Lothian,  Alex Halligey,   Mark Hoeben,  Daniel Barnett, Francis Chouler, Darron Araujo,

Others: James Macgregor, Michael Inglis.  Robyn Mcharry , Chi Mhende,  Gabriel Hoffman, Dewald van Zyl, Richard Lothian, James Macgregor,Michael Inglis,  Peter Krummeck, Jeroen Kranenburg,  John Caviggia,  Alexander Tops .   At Maynardville until 19 February. at 8:15pm.

Tickets are R100, R130 and R150. Special performances for learners are 26, 31 January, 1, 2, 7, 8 February at 19:45; ticket prices are R50.  Block booking discounts are available from Artscape Box Office or Computicket.  On Monday 14 February at 20:15 Katherina and Petruchio will celebrate Valentine’s Day with love and red roses with the patrons!   A lucky ticket draw will be another highlight of this evening.  Book at Computicket or Artscape Dial-a-Seat 021 421 7695 or at the Maynardville Box Office, an hour prior to the performance.

Astrid Stark

THE END

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