The Stratford Festival of Canada has a fine library of filmed productions that are available in various forms. Some have been seen in cinemas, many on television and are available now free, on demand, on DVD or Blu-ray.
The Festival has made numerous production available for home viewing during the pandemic crisis. The 2020 season was cancelled and for many of us it was nothing short of a disaster. What is available for watching at home goes some ways in assuaging the loss.
There are a dozen major productions available on demand ranging from King Lear with Colm Feore, The Tempest with Martha henry, Timon of Athens with Joseph Ziegler, Coriolanus with Michael Blake, Macbeth with Ian Lake and others.
There are also some gems from older productions, and I watched the 1988 production of The Taming of the Shrew. I saw it 32 years ago and remembered it somewhat but unfortunately most of the details have been taken away by Lethe.
One of the interesting things about watching a performance that was filmed so many years ago was seeing so many familiar performers in their youth or remembering some that have died. Ricard Monette directed a top-notch cast, and the result was and remains a brilliant, imaginative, and simply hilarious rendering of the problematic play.
Monette sets the play in Italy in the 1950’s. There is liberal and comic use of Italian, Petruchio rides a Vespa, and some actors have “Italian” accents.
Monette finds or invents humour continually and many times unexpectedly. He makes short shrift of the Induction with the drunken Christopher Sly (Colm Feore) but what he keeps is funny. For example, the drunk Sly tries to light a cigarette but he cannot see the lighter properly, so he puts his hand over one eye and manages to light is smoke.
Colm Feore as Petruchio is agile, blissfully honest about his mercenary attraction to the curst Kate and somehow manages to reduce his apparent cruelty. Goldie Semple as Kate is no doubt abused but she never shows anger or suffering. When Petruchio tells her the sun is the moon and vice versa, she looks at him and smiles the way one would at an idiot making outrageous remarks. She knows him and seems certain that she will triumph.
When Kate goes after her sister Bianca (Kim Horsman) the scene becomes a gale of laughter. She whacks Bianca with a pillow and then takes her teddy bear, dismembers it limb by limb and tosses the pieces to her screaming sister. Hilarious.
When Lucentio (Henry Czerny) and his servant Tranio (Scott Wentworth) start undressing on stage so they can exchange their identities, as they lower their pants, two nuns come walking across the stage and it is simply funny.
Monette invests all the characters with humour including the prissy Gremio (Brian Tree) and the scholarly Hortensio (Geraint Wyn Davies)
Monette does not and cannot solve the central problem of the play which is the mistreatment and bullying of a woman into submission. But he covers it up by making Kate an intelligent woman who knows how to put up with her husband’s idiocies. Monette shows us that Kate is attracted to Petruchio after their forced kiss and that is emphasized even during the “Fie, fie” speech of submission at the end. Here Semple emphasizes the word love and she intones the word obey in a way as to produce laughter. Petruchio also shows love and the final kiss ends the play on a positive note.
Te production was produced and directed for CBC television by Norman Campbell. The video is not quite to HD standards, but it is an intelligently made film of an outstanding production
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare is available from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival here: https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome