Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Halfway Decent Versions of the Taming of the Shrew

Although the Monsterpiece Theater version of the Taming of the Shrew is pretty great, it is in fact not the "better versions" that I was referring to in my earlier post. It's true that as far as I've seen, the great Taming of the Shrew film has yet to be made. But take heart! There are a few movies that are worth noting before we enter the gory world of Henry VI movies. So, if you're still in the mood for Christopher Sly and the Players, I'd recommend you check out one of the following productions (both of which actually do include Christopher Sly, incidentally)...

1. The BBC Animated Tales version (1994)
This short (26 minutes), sweet version can only be described thusly: adorbs. I especially loved Katherine - not only does she have cute red curls, which bounce up and down with her emotions, her voice is done by the wonderful Amanda Root (whom you might remember as Anne in Persuasion).

This is Amanda Root. If you watch the puppet production, you won't actually get to see her, so I'm putting her picture here.

All of the puppets are quite well done - judging by the credits they seem to have been put together by a whole host of clever Russian puppeteers, led by director Aida Zyablikova. Of course, the length means that much of the text is cut, but I was impressed that the adapter, Leon Garfield, was able to tell the story with mostly Shakespearean lines in the time given.
Puppet Petruchio woos Puppet Katherine. She remains hard-hearted.

Of course, because this is basically a mini-version of the play - both in length and the size of the players - it can't be a comprehensive or definitive version. Also, I would have liked to have seen a little more rapport between Katherine and Petruchio by the end - puppet Katherine seemed a little too dejected in the final scenes - but you can't have everything in 26 minutes of puppetry, I suppose. Overall, these animators do a great job of capturing some of the fire and fascination of this play, all in a delightful format. BTW, I actually found and watched this entire production on youtube (here). Or, buy the set on amazon (and support What Shall Shakespeare Say Today):

2.Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival Version (1986)

Hands-down the best version if you want to see an entertaining, straightforward production of the play. The comic elements and rhyming couplets are brought out. Gremio (Rod Beattie) and Hortensio (Patrick Christopher) find their places as comedic, rather than tragic or serious, characters. What's going on is always clear. Every scene is light, quickly paced and full of -mostly- amusing gags.

Hortensio has disguised himself, apparently as a chipmunk, by carrying a lute and filling his mouth with marbles. Thus he hopes to win Bianca's love.

One reason that this enjoyable production has not taken its place as THE movie version of The Taming of the Shrew is that it is a TV recording of a play on a stage, without the film quality or visual interest of an actual multi-set movie.

Another reason is that although all the actors are competent and funny, there just is not an extremely compelling star here. Petruchio, played by Len Cariou, is highly energetic and engaging, but is also somewhat one-dimensional. Kate (Sharry Flett) is great in that she is pretty, yet thoroughly unpleasant, yet thrilled to have a suitor; however, she's also a little screechy (screaming probably worked better on stage than it does on film). Lynne Griffin does stand out from the rest of the cast with her hilarious, bratty, and totally text-supported portrayal of Bianca, but generally, the strength of this production is not in star performances, but in the excellent ensemble work, great pacing, and the whole cast's beautiful, understandable diction.
Lucentio (Peter Hunt) and Bianca. Everyone likes Bianca!

Overall, both Shakespeare girl and I really enjoyed this funny, traditional version - so far, it is our top recommended production of this play. I only wish I could zip over to Ontario and see it live, but alas, it closed about 25 years ago! This one's available on amazon too:

1 comment:

  1. Also, if you have access to an academic library, you might be able to access the Stratford production through your library database - I was able to stream it on the educational film database "Films on Demand."