Traditionally The Taming of the Shrew has brought all sorts of controversy and discussions on sexism and the submission of wives to their husbands. However, for this particular experience, I would suggest we leave these issues aside and address the play as a worthy creature in its own right.
While, in other forms of art, I would be loathe to give away too much of the plot, in Shakespeare, I feel it’s often necessary to be familiar with the tale before you enter, as the charm of the play possibly lies more in the dialogue, imagery and language than in the storyline. Having said that, I’m not as familiar with this one as I am with others, and suspect that affected the way I responded to it. Of course, I haven’t mentioned the novel twist to this particular performance – set in relatively modern-day (say 1970s) Pakistan, it was entirely in Urdu. Coming from an Asian background, I have a passable knowledge of Urdu, approximately equivalent to that of a five year old, perhaps; and this gave me an advantage compared to the native Brits in the audience. Nevertheless, there was much praise in the intermission, and a written guide gave a detailed outline of each act, so I suspect there was little detraction from the enjoyment of the play.
So we began in Lahore and instantly I could see the advantage of this particular Shakespearean play for such an adaptation. In many ways, the themes addressed here are familiar and relevant to life in Lahore, and the similarities to Pakistani culture made the play seem much less archaic than it might otherwise. The story revolves around the marriages of two daughters. A number of suitors compete for the hand of the younger, but paternal decree requires the shrewish elder to wed first. Cue much hilarity over attempts to subdue the Shrew whilst simultaneously wooing the ingénue, along with the traditional role-changes and confusion over identities.
In a culture where arranged marriages are not seen as abnormal, and where embarking on a life together with another person is more by decision than determined by Cupid’s fancy, the limitations placed on the suitors seemed perfectly logical, and minor alterations to update the storyline were barely noticeable. Suddenly, what could have been a staid and arcane tale became fresh and relevant. In addition, one advantage afforded to me by my language skills was the ability to see the suitability of Urdu for such a play. It is a poetic language (or can be) and lends itself well to a translation of Shakespearean dialogue, as the florid descriptions and romantic imagery fit perfectly without seeming out of place or stilted for a modern audience.
A superb cast with obvious chemistry served to draw in those who might have struggled with the dialogue, making the comedy physical without becoming farcical – a subtle balance. In addition, an original score with traditional musicians created an intoxicating atmosphere, and it was difficult to keep from smiling along with the characters.
While for a British audienc, this production may benefit from subtitles (à la opera), the impressive performances offered, not just by the main characters, and the versatility of the cast made this an impressive translation of the Bard on to a more international stage.
Why on Earth hasn’t it been done before?
Rain (DI Reviewer), 22/05/12
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