- The Taming of the Shrew
For an English-speaking country with a flourishing theatre industry, Ireland has a history of producing comparatively little Shakespeare. Rough Magic's The Taming of the Shrew, for example, is only their second such production, despite the company's name and their twenty-year history as one of Dublin's liveliest independent theatre collectives. Recently, however, there seems to be something of a small renaissance in the staging of Shakespeare going on, including, in the last year, a site-specific Merchant of Venice at the Cork Midsummer Festival, a new company (Classic Stage Ireland) whose first three productions have all been Shakespeare, and an awe-inspiring Titus Andronicus from Siren Productions. This last included Owen Roe as Titus and a virtuoso turn from Tadhg Murphy as Chiron, so their return as Petruchio and Lucentio, respectively, in The Taming of the Shrew, gave audiences the chance to see how much a clever actor can do with the opportunity to explore vastly contrasting roles.
In this production, Italian location references in the text were let stand, but the setting was clearly Irish. The traverse stage of the Project Arts Centre's upstairs theatre lends itself to dynamic blocking, and brought the audience close to the action. Lots of lime green and yellow, wooden chairs and tables, and patterned linoleum created a sense of small town community halls, where refreshments would involve little triangle sandwiches and large slugs of whiskey. The actors used their own accents, [End Page 110] which meant some were Dublin, others more identifiable as country. In everyday speech, a somewhat old-fashioned turn of phrase is still common in Ireland, and the accents, particularly those from the rural regions, have prominent iambic rises and falls. This means that the sounds of ordinary Irish speech fit the language of Shakespeare so well that the lines themselves seem to make more sense than when we hear them in other accents. The cadences of the Irish accent simply cleave to Shakespeare's language, particularly in its comic mode, and save the jokes from sounding as forced as they often do on the modern stage. The decision to set the play in rural Ireland in the 1960s was potentially gimmicky, but director Lynne Parker made a persuasive case for both the choice of play and for a localized setting as clever dramaturgical commentary. Parker's argument is that marriage in Ireland has always been a bargain struck between men who are competitive about land and chattels: I have this much land, you have this many ducats, I am prepared to combine our assets by marrying your daughter, who will run my home and have my babies. The men collude, they bargain, they seal their deals with drink, and the women are normally excluded from the process.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
This emphasis on the play's marriage-market aspect gave the sub-plot unusual prominence. As the induction was done away with entirely, the play began with Lucentio's entrance, seeming to set him up as the hero, [End Page 111] and a charming and funny one at that. Bianca has long been recognized as the one who knows how to play the system, and this Bianca, a definite goodtime girl, knew exactly how to get the most out of remaining a chattel. She seemed both smart and reasonable for exploiting the opportunity to become involved in the business of deciding to whom she would be handed over. This production mocked the fervent repetition of the word "modesty" as a mantra to describe female virtue: keeping quiet in public makes you modest, even if you're screwing...