‘Tame – Married at First Fight’ is a melding of William Shakespeare’s 1592 play ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and a lesser known sequel ‘The Tamer Tamed’ (also known as ‘The Woman’s Prize’). The latter was written in 1604 as a response to ‘The Taming’ by John Fletcher. Fletcher set his play in London, but still used the same character names as Shakespeare.
When the two plays were presented jointly for the first time in 1633, the Master of the Revels (effectively the Censor) banned the sequel because of its ‘foul and offensive matters’. The script was sanitised, and the combined plays were presented later that year to the King Charles l and his French Queen; they preferred Fletcher’s play.
These plays have been skilfully abridged by Murdoch lecturer in English and Theatre, Dr Melissa Merchant. With each play cut down to only one hour, it is admirable to see how the rhyming couplets and the Shakespearean style has been retained so well throughout.
This special and commendable production was presented for two nights only at the Nexus Theatre in the Murdoch University Campus, by the students of ‘The Shakespeare and his Contemporaries Unit EGL244’.
The two-hour, enthusiastically received performances were presented at 7.30 pm on the 6th and 7th of June 2019.
The scene: Padua (15 kms west of Venice). The date is indefinite but probably post World War ll rather than 1600.
The set: The massive backdrop (15m x 10m high) was of an impressive Eastern European, pink building with white windows and stonework. This architecturally accurate and delightful piece was painted by Ally Snell. It was constructed by James Jury and Chris Connelly. James and Chris also suppled the two bunker-like structure (centre stage) which were used as spying spots for various characters.
The effective lighting design by James Jury incorporated selective spotlights being used to depict various locations. The sound design by Melissa Merchant gave the audience a pleasant selection of music from two generations ago.
Workshop facilitation was by Andrew Kocsis and Sarah Courtis, with assistance from Claire Mosel-Crossley.
Smooth stage management by Zenna Newman and Shannon Moulton, with additional help from Bee Tandy.
Incidentally, care must be taken by actors making exits – for all productions in this theatre – with the rear black exit curtains (stage right) leading to the storeroom, as these are regularly left ‘a jar’ showing the illuminated room behind.
Act One: The Taming of the Shrew
When Lucentio (Tyler Isard) arrives in Padua to further his studies, he spots beautiful Bianca (Hannah Summers) the younger daughter of Baptista (Tia Annandale) a rich merchant. Then he learns she already has two suitors Gremio (Maxim Laffont) and Hortensio (Ken p’Ogwaro), but luckily neither of whom she likes. Bianca’s father, Baptista, says she cannot marry until her miserable, hard hearted older sister, Katharina (Beth Williams – very good) is married first.
Lucentio hears from his servant Biondello (Shannen Moulton) that Baptista and his family friend, the pedant (Jessica Foulstone) are going to hire tutors for Bianca. Lucentio who has disguised himself as a Latin tutor is hired by the aging Gremio to woo Bianca on his behalf. Hortensio disguised as a musician tries to court her. However, Lucentio’s servant Tranio (Shelby Foster), dresses as Lucentio in order to persuade Baptista into letting Lucentio marry Bianca.
Unfortunately, a suave soldier, Petruccio (Declan Atkinson – excellent – the name Petruchio normally refers to the character in ‘Romeo and Juliet’) and his enthusiastic and energetic servant Grumio (Louis Howe – hilarious) arrive from Verona, to visit Hortensio. Petruccio loves a challenge so is determined to woo Baptista’s nightmare daughter, Katharina. Katarina stubbornly rejects Petruccio’s advances, but undeterred Petruccio arranges their wedding day. At the church Katharina impatiently awaits her bridegroom; Petruccio, dressed in bizarre clothes purchased from a mad merchant (Thomas Wendt), arrives very late and causes a scene.
After the ceremony and back at their new home in Verona, Katharina is abused and starved by Petruccio’s servants as Petruccio tries to ‘tame’ his new wife. Eventually, Katherina submits and agrees to all Petruccio’s quirks. The ‘happy’ couple then go to see Kate’s father in Padua. On the way they meet Vincentio (Andrew Kocsis), Lucentio’s wealthy father.
In Padua, Hortensio has been rejected by Bianca, so he marries a wealthy widow (Bee Tandy). They discover that Tranio, whilst dressed as Lucentio and with a peasant posing as the father, Vincentio, who has been given the marriage blessing.
Who will end up with whom?
Act Two: The Tamer Tamed
Petruchio’s turbulent marriage to Katharina ended with her death. Petruchio (Maxim Laffont) then married Maria (Zenna Newman), who is an even tougher nut than Katharina and cannot be manipulated. In fact, Maria, in the style of Lysistrata refuses to consummate their marriage until Petruchio changes his ways. Maria talks other women including her cousin Bianca (Jemma Kuchel), a city lady (Shalom Auvaa), Maria’s servant (Janine Mans) and her mother Petronius (Bee Tandy) into joining the women’s cause by abstaining and barricading themselves in Maria’s house.
In opposition, Petruchio gathers his friends Tranio (Katie Ward), Sophocles (Ken p’Ogwaro) and his servant Grumio (Sarah Papadoulis – brilliant characterisation) for moral support. Can the men overcome the female stonewall? Especially when three wenches or witches (Tia Annandale, Jessica Foulstone, Hannah Summers) are also plotting against them.
The disagreeable and aging Moroso (Dhurba Karki) and the desirable Roland (Thomas Wendt) are also both left looking for a wife, but there are none on the market. Will Maria and Livia (Courtney Gildersleeve) find marital bliss? Is Petruchio doomed to a celibate life? Or does he have a trick up his sleeve?
Tiffany Banner had to find a large variety of costumes, ranging from military uniforms to wedding outfits, and from smart to zany. Tiffany also coped very well with the hair designs and makeup.
With such a large cast entering the auditorium from the rear, the lighting gantry, as well as several points around the stage it kept the audience’s interest and excitement flowing. This extra movement and crowd scenes were supervised by Ellin Sears and Sarah Courtis who made the interaction look and flow normally. Excellent.
With two intricate plays, each with large casts, Director Melissa Merchant had a major task on her hands. Should she take the easy way out with one cast throughout? Or give all the students in the unit a chance at fame? So, with 29 characters in the two plays, Melissa went forth bravely and gave everyone a part. Inevitably, there was the enthusiastic student who had learnt his lines perfectly, and projected quite well but missed out on the body movement and an understanding of the dialogue’s emotional content. A couple of actors needed to concentrate on their diction skills. On the other hand, most of the actors captured the flow of Shakespeare’s couplets and hidden innuendos perfectly. The Bard’s lines need to be delivered more slowly and precisely than for most modern productions, in order that the intricate relationships and the rich dialogue can be understood. Even in anger, the vocal pace should be controlled. Having said all of this BOTH plays were top-rate. Each cast had genuine chemistry and great pace; the plays flowed beautifully.
Melissa Merchant did a magnificent job in directing the students to add those little extra actions that clarify Shakespeare’s dubious dialogue and double-entendres, ensuring they are presented with finesse. Several of the cast were exceptional with superb stage skills.
Great fun. The audience loved every second.