Monday, March 7, 2016


James Karas

The Stratford Festival is bringing its triumphal 2015 production of The Taming of the Shrew to movie theatres.

Those who saw the production at Stratford last summer will recall that Director Chris Abraham directed, indeed choreographed, an extraordinary rendition of the play by turning it into a love story. The degradation, humiliation and abuse of the cursed Katherine (Deborah Hay) is there but in the end it is Petruchio (Ben Carlson), the ultimate male chauvinist pig who is tamed. This Katherine has spunk and intelligence to turn the tables on him and end the play on a note of love.

Deborah Hay (centre) as Katherina with members of the company. Photography by David Hou
The film, directed by Barry Avrich, is an intelligent transfer of the stage performance with some avoidable and needless errors. In some ways the HD movie is better than the stage performance. There are many grimaces, facial expressions and movements that one probably missed in the theatre but will catch in the movie. In the final scene, for example, when Katherine is apparently humiliated to the point of calling Petruchio her lord, her king and her governor and offers to place her hand under his boot in token of her submission, the camera zeroes in on his face. He is no longer the arrogant pig of the first act but is melting with love. As the two leave to go to their wedding bed, Katherine grabs him and pulls him in. We could not quite see all of this in the live theatre but we can in the movie.

The brilliant colours of the costumes and the set come out gloriously in high definition but the real gain is the digital sound of the voices and Shakespeare’s text. No one need miss a single word and the movie should become a major vehicle for gaining audiences for Shakespeare, especially among the young.
Members of the company in The Taming of the Shrew. Photography by David Hou.
The only issue I have with Avrich is his overenthusiastic change of camera shots. When we have a perfect view of a character or a scene, there is no need to keep clicking onto close-ups or different angles. This goes from pointless to annoying and at times it wrecks the scene. When Hortensio (Mika Shara) is kicked out with a musical instrument broken around his neck, the joke is on him and he is the only one that should be on camera. In his enthusiasm to change shots, Avrich almost ruins the joke. 

What does come out however is Abraham’s detailed choreography of every scene, of every gesture, of every facial expression and of every reaction. A superb cast is even more enjoyable when seen close up. The praise I heaped on them in my stage review remains unabated and in some respects increased. Tom Rooney as the servant Tranio is swift of foot and of tongue and always entertaining. Brian Tree is superb as Grumio, Petruchio’s ever-suffering servant.
Michael-Spencer-Davis excels as Gremio, the foolish old suitor of Bianca (a funny Sarah Afful). Oh, yes, the names may get confusing when reading the play – you are never in doubt about who is who when watching the movie.

The next Stratford HD offering will be Hamlet in April 23 which just happens to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare being the HD movie from the 2015 Stratford Festival production will be shown in Cineplex Theatres on March 13 and 15, 2016. For more information:

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