In Shakespeare’s day, female roles were played by male actors. Recent times have seen many directors exploring the gender roles by giving female actors iconic male roles such Hamlet and Romeo. And now for the first time on a South African stage an all-female version of a Shakespeare play is being presented.
Both the cast and crew of the comedy The Taming the Shrew – currently running at the Maynardville open-air theatre – are female. With the #MeToo and equal rights movements getting much coverage over the past year, this is the ideal theatrical experience to highlight the serious gender issues currently faced by society.
The play tells the story of Baptista Minola (played by Lynita Crofford) who tries to find potential husbands for his two daughters Kate and Bianca, played respectively by Alicia McCormick and Buhle Ngaba. All good and well, but Kate is considered a shrew, a wild daughter who can’t be tamed, and before Baptista will allow anybody to marry the much sought-after Bianca, Kate must first find a husband.
The Taming of the Shrew is a powerful battle of the sexes; it delves deep into gender issues with an ambiguity to its reading that has often proven controversial. Whether Shakespeare meant it as a satire or not we will never know for sure, but in 2018 it certainly makes sense to interpret this dark comedy as a critique on gender roles in society.
At just 31 years old Tara Notcutt is a celebrated director and the youngest person to direct a play at Maynardville. In its 62-year history Notcutt is only the fifth woman to direct a play at Maynardville. The message this sends chimes perfectly with that of the production itself: any spaces in society historically meant to be occupied by men, are now rightfully occupied by women.
The style of the show is very informal with off-beat, wacky and out-there elements, words one seldom uses to describe a Shakespeare production. This contemporary style smacks you in the face from the get-go and whilst modernisation has been part of many productions it certainly won’t be aesthetically pleasing to all audience members. With references from Eminem to the Macarena, this version may shock anyone expecting a certain “decorum”.
Is it functional though? Absolutely. It makes Shakespeare more accessible, and modern songs and dance moves certainly create an atmosphere that is not normally expected of a Shakespeare performance. Having said that, it did feel contrived at times and might benefit from being toned down a notch.
The bare stage with only a cupboard to indicate scene changes, worked marvellously. There was a sense of a magician’s box, with décor being whipped up inside and magically appearing at the appropriate time. Besides some technical problems with the actors’ microphones towards the end, the production was technically strong.
If you have been to previous Shakespeare plays at Maynardville, you won’t want to miss this one. Seldom before has it felt more apt and relevant to stage a specific production.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is on at Maynardville Open-Air Theatre until 3 March 2018.