Head backstage with Vancouver Island University’s Theatre students as they prepare for their upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and you’ll get a healthy dose of debate over the play’s controversial ending, along with a visual feast of set décor and costumes from another era.
“It’s steampunk meets commedia dell’arte in our adaptation of Shakespeare’s most outrageous comedy,” said Leon Potter, theatre professor and director of the 15 students involved in the play.
Potter and his cast and crew began rehearsals in early October in preparation for opening night of The Taming of the Shrew in VIU’s Malaspina Theatre Nov. 7. Evening and matinee performances run until Nov. 16.
The audience can expect an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew that marries the hot trend of a retro-futuristic steampunk design aesthetic with the comic elements and masked characters represented in 16th century commedia dell’arte.
“It’s a visually stunning time period, and a really interesting genre to work in,” said Potter, who thought it would be interesting to depict the play’s controversial ending in the steampunked Victorian era known for its buttoned-up social mores and suffragette movement.
The play, for those who may have missed its reading in high school, focuses on two sisters in the Italian city of Padua who must be married off.
The modest, demure Bianca has no shortage of suitors, while the ‘shrewish’ Katherina leaves the audience wondering who might ever agree to marry a woman so bold and ungovernable. The gold-digging Petruchio, as maddeningly strong willed and perverse as Katherina herself, is presented as a suitor who may well be equal to the task of bullying her to the altar.
Potter spent the early days of rehearsals with his cast and crew working through a script that, taken in the way many believe Shakespeare intended, explores relationships and an ending that are anything but obvious.
“It always struck me that the play wasn’t about the submission of a woman and a ‘taming of a shrew’,” said Potter. “What we discovered in rehearsal is that Petruchio was actually shielding Kate from the society that she’s surrounded in.”
Theatre student Tom Favreau, who plays Petruchio’s servant Grumio, found working through the early stages of rehearsals interesting and thought provoking. “I’m looking at it in a totally different way than I was before. It just opens up a lot more ways to interpret the entire play.”
With a thoughtful, spirited interpretation of the 16th century classic by its cast, professional set design by Vancouver’s Brian Ball and costumes by Theatre program alumna Michelle Kuzilla-Spoor, The Taming of the Shrew is sure to present an evening of great entertainment followed by some interesting debate on the drive home.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and are available at the Malaspina Theatre Box Office, or may be reserved at 250-740-6100.