A review of The Taming of the Shrew: A vivacious taming

Combined Theatre Company mounted on the boards of the Lionel Wendt theatre one of the best loved comedies of the Bard, for a three night show run starting on July 21. Yours truly occupied seat Q-7 on opening night to witness William Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew, as a directorial work of Vinodh Senadeera and Delon Weerasinghe. The show was not a ‘complete and unabridged’ performance of the Bard’s script. The performance opened with Act 1 Scene 1 and not the Induction composed of two scenes as per Shakespeare’s script. Even the end which did hit a dramatic note as an enlivened Petruchio exclaimed ‘Kiss me Kate!’ isn’t exactly words on which Shakespeare’s script ends. However, what Combined Theatre Company presented theatregoers was a memorable performance and a praiseworthy production.

The visual fabric woven onstage created a resplendent Elizabethan era Shakespearean period play. The costumes and makeup departments of this production must be commended. The stage set design was very tastefully executed to create an impression of London’s Globe Theatre which is the undisputed centre for Shakespearean theatre. The goal of providing theatregoers an authentic (as much as possible) experience of Shakespeare drama was accomplished by Combined Theatre Company.

The opening, with the dialogue between Lucentio played by Mevantha de Silva, and Tranio played by Biman Wimalaratne, appeared a bit rushed and almost over enthusiastic. The gesticulations seemed a bit ‘patterned’ between the two actors in that scene. The entry of Lihan Mendis as Baptista Minola together with the characters Katherine, Bianca, Gremio and Hortensio swiftly added dynamismto the action that modulated the pace to a salutary rhythm. Mendis delivered his character as a staid figure, whose fatherliness and shrewdness as well as a host of other sentiments surfaced visibly as the situation demanded. The overall cast showed an appreciable spectrum of thespian mettle that achieved symmetry of acting talent when weaving the fabric of performance.

On the casting front the directors clearly made a splendid choice with Tasmin Anthonisz as Katherine and Inaya Bongso as Bianca. An aspect in Anthonisz’s performance that I couldn’t help but notice was her elocutionary diction which stood out from the rest of the cast. I noticed at times her verbalisation wasn’t optimum and may have been slightly trammelled by the focus on maintaining the tone of elocution. But, her stage presence was undeniable from start to finish. She exuded the persona of a woman whose feistiness encased surreptitious sensuality.

There was at times a sense of eroticism underpinned to the character of Katherine in how she was played out to the male eye when juxtaposed to the character of Bianca who was depicted as a paragon of feminine gentleness. Inaya Bongso played Bianca as an embodiment of a damsel of delicateness resplendent with ‘flower petal femininity’. The contrast of the Minola sisters was visible, sharp and well executed while affording both characters their respective elements of female allure.

Petruchio, portrayed by Rahantha Abayakoon, was a dynamo of masculine boisterousness brought out with physical dexterity and a fast paced speech which at times nearly compromised enunciation. There was a high degree of vitality in Petruchio’s performance stated through his deportment and tone. A directorial device perhaps, one may surmise, to project the impression of male virility.

The Taming of the Shrew is a play ripe with sexual innuendo. The directorial craft of Senadheera and Weerasinghe imbued the performance with more than a peppering of sauciness to jazz up certain scenes which presented gesticulations that optimised the suggestive nuances of the text. One particular instance was how Petruchio in the course of a dialogue empathically pauses in midsentence when he utters the word ‘but’ to overtly direct his gaze upon Katherine’s posterior, and then resumes his speech.

On a lighter vein, an observation that caught my eye in this production which showcased elegant finery as a period drama was in the scene where Petruchio is down to his undershorts. A glimpse of a white elastic waistband of the actor’s briefs was slightly visible. That ‘brief encounter’ of present day underclothing inadvertently made visible, created a minor rupture of the visual fabric of the Elizabethan Shakespearean period costume schema albeit for a ‘brief moment’. What I noticed subsequently to the credit of the performance was that when Petruchio re-entered the stage after an exit, still in is undershorts, the white elastic waistband of the briefs beneath, was out of sight.

Marlon Jesudason as the Producer, together with the directors and the entire team behind this production of The Taming of the Shrew, deserve a rousing round of applause for bringing to life a much loved comedy of the Bard which inspired cinematic adaptations such as, Kiss Me Kate from the early 50s and the teen romance comedy of the late 90s, 10 Things I Hate About You.

Vallibel Finance the principal sponsor of this production and all other sponsors who contributed towards the fruition of this theatre project must be applauded for their commendable support for the dramatic arts. Combined Theatre Company certainly won waves of applause on the opening night of the show run of The Taming of the Shrew. And for the record, at the curtain call, they received from this reviewer, a standing ovation. 

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