By: Katie Roberts
His works were written 400 years ago but the legacy of Shakespeare lives on, not just in the West but here in Asia, too. The Globe Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, one of the Bard’s most revered comedies, plays in Hong Kong in September.
The show has been in the pipeline for a long time according to according to Executive Producer Matthew Gregory of ABA Productions, the company responsible for staging the show. “We’ve been working on it for five years and other than a performance in Korea a few years back, this is the first time the Globe Theatre has performed in Asia.”
“In the tradition of the original Globe Theatre, we want the audience to be as close as possible, to actually lean on the stage. We won’t be holding people back; it will be a purposefully interactive, intimate experience for everyone,” he says.
Matthew also suggests the audience look out for one of the traditions that will be upheld from the 17th-century Globe. “When a play begins, people go onto the stage and pour alcohol all over the floor to appease the god of theatre, Dionysus.”
Lead actors Kate Lamb (25) and Leah Whitaker (31), who play the main characters Katherina and Petruchio, answered a few questions about the play and what the audience can expect.
Most people have heard of The Taming of the Shrew, but some may not know the storyline. What’s it all about?
Leah: It’s a story about two sisters. The younger is famously attractive, demure; she’s the ideal woman who has a lot of suitors. The older sister Katherina is famously cursed, to use the Shakespearean word. She’s loud, aggressive, rough and shrewish.
All the men want to marry the younger sister, but she can’t marry until the older sister gets married. Their father cleverly made this arrangement to make sure somebody would take the eldest, but no one will go near her – until Petruchio arrives. He is looking for a rich wife and hears about Katherina; he thinks it is an amazing challenge and that he can tame her. Much hilarity ensues.
What makes this performance different?
Kate: This is an all-female cast, which is perfect as this play deals a lot with gender issues, equality and how relationships between men and women work. In fact it is the opposite of the original Shakespeare productions, which had all-male casts because women weren’t allowed to act on stage in Elizabethan times. The female aspect is quite appropriate for this play as issues of balance, negotiation and compromise arise in a battle of wills between Petruchio and Katherina.
What can the audience look forward to?
Leah: For a start the setting is beautiful, and it’s an incredible story that has been told for hundreds of years. It’s a real show, and it is very funny. Elizabethan travelling players used everything they had to tell the story and this production follows that tradition.
Kate: There’s only a cast of eight people, so there will be constant activity: music and singing, swapping roles and changing costumes to identify characters. It’s rough theatre, fun and boisterous. We will create everything before your eyes: the music and the spectacle.
What about the language? Should people worry that they won’t understand it?
Kate: I first saw a live Shakespeare performance when I was six. I don’t believe I understood it all, but I fell in love with it. I think storytelling can transcend words.
Leah: There is such a music to Shakespeare’s language. I can hear music and understand the emotion in his words. A Shakespeare script is a lot like a musical score.
Kate: The script was written to be learnt like a song. I once saw an African production of Macbeth – it was in Zulu, but I understood what was happening between the characters and what they were going through. The wonderful thing about Shakespeare’s stories is that the characters are built for speaking and for performance. It’s not done only through words.
Is it confronting for an actor to have the audience so close?
Leah: It’s the best for this kind of theatre and, in fact, Shakespeare’s plays were written to include much direct communication between the actors and the audience. I talk to the audience directly six times, describing things that are happening off-stage, or matters of conscience.
See The Taming of the Shrew from 25 to 29 September at Lyric Theatre, The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Tickets from HK Ticketing.