The Taming of the Shrew

Mon 21st – Tue 22nd May 2012

reviews

Dewei Jia

at 00:09 on 22nd May 2012

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Common criticism about this early Shakespeare comedy by feminists develops around the ‘taming’ of the headstrong bride Katherine (called Kiran in this production) by her equally violent husband Petruchio (Rustam). The taming process is, as many may think, cruel, insulting, and nasty. Given that Pakistani culture is anything but feminist, I was also expecting this production to be a brutal depiction of a man conquering a woman. However, the light-hearted, inviting story accompanied by idyllic sitar, flute, rabab and sarangi instead unfolds the growing love between the couple.

As most timeless adaptions in a cross-cultural backgrounds do, the staging has been shifted to a relatively contemporary Pakistan setting and characters have been assigned new names. But it actually doesn’t matter what you call them, or whether they are recognisable Shakespeare characters. The story is just so natural and so Pakistani that you don’t want to bother think about comparing it to the original Shakespeare. Development of love between two couples: Rustam and Kiran, and Qazim (Lucentio in Shakespeare) and Bina (Bianca) is true to the original, and thus illustrates a common sentiment of those lovers with certain personality regardless of language and culture background.

The chorus Ravi (Sly), played by Maria Khan, is a particular gem in this play. Her facial expressions bring lots of laughters on its own. Her exaggerated body language, incorporating Pakistani choreographic elements, is always posed in a curiously funny position. She will ‘drag’ out those reluctant, shy or arrogant characters from the backstage in different ways, which also indicates the mood or personality of those characters. Those who are willing to come to the stage would chat, murmur, shout, or run in their ways through the audience from the theatre entrance. It effectively increases the elements of interaction with the audience and enlarges the area for performance.

Kiran, played by Nadia Jamil, instead of being brutal and mental, is just a rebellious, slightly ill-tempered girl with some desirable dynamic and liveliness. Therefore, as you may expect, Jamil’s lively dance and hilarious squabbling make the shrew girl rather lovely. Another amusing character is the cross-dressed widow played by Hamza Kamal, an only 17-year old actor. His widow, trying to show ‘her’ sexiness with a reserved shyness captured the point of such a character and the laughter of the audience.

Music and choreography, full of exotic south Asian charm, lighten the spirit of the entire play. The swinging body, waving and inviting hands suit the comedic elements really well. The music can also be rather soothing and even nostalgic, however. It comes whenever the loving couple enjoy their peaceful time, and delivers the sweetness of those gentle moments. The only criticism I want to raise is that the backdrop is confusing and somewhat boring. Depicting a Lahore street, it may aim to meet the simplicity of Shakespearean setting. But in fact, it causes confusion about where each scene takes place, whether is in houses or on the streets. Especially when there is no further clue about the time and place, when the play in performed in a language (Urdu) hardly understood by at least some of the audience, a stronger indication about settings would help the audience better appreciate the performance.

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Hyunwoo June Choo

at 10:55 on 22nd May 2012

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Theatre Walley and Kashf Foundation set themselves for a challenge: to dress Shakespeare in Pakistani attire, or more accurately, to overlay Pakistani culture onto Shakespeare. Produced by Susannah Harris-Wilson and directed by Haissam Hussain with a noble aim of illuminating the female independence in the mire of pedantic patriarchal society, this 3 hour-long adaptation of 'The Taming of the Shrew' is vibrant with culture, and potentially amusing…if only I understand Urdu.

As part of the cultural extravaganza commencing the summer Olympics, this production will be carry on its journey to Shakespeare’s Globe next week. The play is entirely in Urdu, with no subtitles or translations other than a two-page scene-by-scene synopsis in the program. Since I sat through an entire production with a towering language barrier, I can say nothing about how the script was conceived and the extent to which it bears similarity to the English original. However, the majority of audience who understood Urdu maintained consistent bursts of belly laugh throughout the show.

From what I could gauge from nonverbal acting, Hussain and Wilson brewed this production to give an authentically Pakistani flavor, with the esoteric humor inspired by the idiosyncrasies of Pakistani people. For example, a recurring physical motif was pulling people by their ears as a form of physical banter, and though not entirely sure why, they always managed to garner laughs from the audiences. The play often featured lovely vocal melodic asides and graceful dance interludes that involve with poise fluidity of the fingertips iconic of the South Asian movements . Off to stage right played a fusion band comprised of guitarists as well as Pakistani instrumentalists, who together produced upbeat bhangra music.

The plot did not stray too far from Shakespeare’s framework, but the emphasis on female independence was clear; 'Taming' is an interesting choice to display female dominance, as it is touted to impart a submissive roles of wives. Nevertheless, the female protagonists Kiran (Nadia Jamil) and Bina (Karen David) imbue an element of confidence and agency into their delivery that contrasts with the jester-like impressions of her surrounding males.

Though neither the set nor light changes throughout the three hours, the energy of the performers and the feedback of audience keeps the show moving. Particularly, the chorus Ravi (Maria Khan) performs just as much physical theatre as narration, and she literally rolls about the floor and contorts her face to many animated expressions on the side. Also, entrances and exits are done through the aisles, setting free the contained energy of the stage.

Though it was difficult sitting through three hours of comedy without understanding a word, I could follow the plot progression pretty easily much thanks to believable acting. If you can understand Urdu, my star rating is an unfair representation of the play; however, without the language competence it proves difficult to enjoy—perhaps subtitles could have made a big difference.

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