Welcome back, dear friends! It is with heavy hearts that we come to the end of our stay in beautiful Stratford, Canada. We took in our last two shows today (yes, two… we deviated from our original schedule in the name of love) and will be headed home tomorrow afternoon. We are no less enchanted by every experience, every moment we have had whilst attending the festival and only wish we had the time and means to stay a bit longer. As yesterday, today was to be a single show day with The Taming of the Shrew bringing up the rear of our theatrical vacation, but we got carried away and decided to rush tickets for Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet. Again. And we’d go a third time in a heartbeat.
But, enough. We have regaled you with the MANY winning qualities that Hamlet possesses already and we must do our duty to bring you our patented “review bullets” for Shrew before we continue our excessive Hamlet gushing.
-As with every show we have seen in Stratford, the technical design was exemplary. Though the set was nowhere near as lavish as others we saw this weekend, it was a clear and very well thought out homage to open air theatres much like Shakespeare’s own Globe. The costumes were a gorgeous parade of lavish, brightly colored Elizabethan garb. (It should also be noted that Shrew was the only Stratford Shakespeare production to remain within its original period.) Music was also heavily implemented in Shrew, lending much to the overall tone of several key scenes. A special shout out should go to the lodge-inspired design for Petruchio’s home, which very much resembled Gaston’s inn in Beauty in the Beast, thus showcasing Petruchio’s over-the-top masculinity.
-The Stratford production of Shrew, much to our confusion, made the decision to keep the prologue. This portion is often cut due to its complete lack of connection to the main action of the play. The actors performed it splendidly (as all the acting we have seen thus far has been superb), but the prologue is so problematic that it effectively takes you out of the narrative before it even begins.
-Petruchio, this evening, was played by the understudy. An exceptional actor whose work we had already observed in Hamlet, we were excited to have a chance to witness his performance. He was quite excellent. Apart from the wig which did not suit him and had a fighting spirit of its own, insisting on blinding him and gagging him throughout the performance. It was clear that the actor did not like the wig either, though he was quite adept at turning his hair adjustments into a character trait.
-Kate was the true winner of tonight’s battle of the sexes. Her performance was physical and varied, delivering a strong, capable woman to the stage. Her facial expressions were unmatched, easily demonstrating her sarcasm, her exasperation, her defeat, and her regrouping as she realized how best to achieve the upper hand.
-Tonight’s scene-stealer was Tranio (played by the same actor who played Polonius and Holofernes). A sparkling wit, a keen hand for delivering Shakespeare’s words with ease, and the physicality of a clown, Tranio was a joy to watch in every scene.
-While the overall play was another fine example of the splendid work put up for the Stratford Festival, this interpretation of Shrew was not our favorite. Had this same cast been given the interpretative layers that exist in the BBC’s production, it would have been perfection. However, Petruchio’s abuse in Act II was taken to a place which found no relief and had no hint of an underlying motive to truly help Kate. Also, while the use of physicality between Kate and Petruchio during their first meeting was well-utilized and quite entertaining we do wish the physical comedy between them could have been used as a way to show their initial spark of attraction. The thing we liked best about the interpretation was the decision to use Kate’s final monologue as a seductive speech directed largely at Petruchio. Though several key jabs of sarcasm were clear, it was most clear that in seducing Petruchio it was, in fact, Kate who was doing the “taming”.
We had a great time at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and truly enjoyed every play we saw. (Of course, there was a clear favorite in Hamlet.) The atmosphere, the plays, the food, and the people all contributed to an experience that we are certain cannot be found anywhere else. We will endeavor to make the journey back next year for the 2016 season and we encourage everyone else to make the trip. It is well worth it.
-A & C