Director and Producer
Photo Credit: Sophie Kirsch
A historic production of The Taming of the Shrew featuring an all-female lineup is currently showing at the Maynardville Open-Air Festival in Cape Town. Shakespeare ZA spoke to director and producer Tara Notcutt about her take on the play as “comedy-horror”, the staging process, and what the Shrew contributes to the #MeToo conversation.
For newcomers to the play, how would you describe The Taming of the Shrew in basic terms?
How I see it, and how we’ve staged it for a modern audience in 2018: The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy-horror about a woman restricted by archaic values still held by some men today, and how systematic misogyny and oppressions of a patriarchy left unchecked lead to her downfall.
In plainer terms, it is as much a comedy as Bob Dylan is a good singer.
Why did you want to direct this specifc Shakespeare play?
I wanted to take on something that I knew would be challenge, as well as something that would respond to what’s currently happening in the world. Seriously though: I thought it would be interesting to do an all-female Two Gentlemen of Verona, but then when I realised I would be not only directing, but self-producing, I thought I better find something that would have a bit more commercial appeal.
People have also asked me why I would want to do this show in the first place, and I quote, “Because no one really thinks that way about women anymore, right?” Wrong. I think what makes this a dangerous and important play is the fact that the values in it are not completely of a bygone time; some aspects are just around in much more subtle, subversive ways.
It is as much a comedy as Bob Dylan is a good singer.
Your production boasts an all-female cast and creative team. Could you comment on how this speaks to the current discourses surrounding gender and the position of women, both in South Africa and abroad?
It has been fascinating doing this play with an all-female company, especially in a #MeToo / #TimesUp world, and in the wake of #MenAreTrash early last year. The deeper we have dug, the more we have realised just how appropriate it is to be doing this play in the way we are doing it now.
The strong female cast is a particularly exciting choice for The Taming of the Shrew, as characters such as Petruchio have often been interpreted as being misogynistic. How do you approach the more volatile points of the play in your interpretation?
I think the female cast highlights the misogyny all the more clearly. When you’re sitting in an audience watching a performer (who you know is female) portraying a man, you start to receive what they say in a much clearer way. It’s like listening to songs from the early 2000s (when the play is set): there’s latent, quiet, subtle misogyny written into all the songs we get nostalgic about (which I think also says a lot about why young men of a certain generation feel the way that they do about things – because it’s been subliminally drilled into them from a young age). The play is similar in that way: it’s difficult to ignore the more tense, cruel, awful moments when you know it’s a woman saying those lines. In this way, we’ve been able to really dig deep into the more volatile areas, instead of skating around them.
It's difficult to ignore the more tense, cruel, awful moments when you know it's a woman saying those lines.
Could you tell us a bit more about the creative process behind staging the play?
It has been the most wonderful, intense experience I have ever had in a rehearsal room. Not only have I directed it, but I am also self-producing (as I mentioned), which adds a whole other kind of intensity to the process. I like to be as collaborative as possible, and really enjoy creating an environment where performers feel like they can play, make suggestions, and try things out. It’s also particularly wonderful to work with my sister, Cleo, as choreographer, as she really just gets me. There’s a shorthand when we work together, and I can often leave her with just a few words to describe a moment and I’ll see it later and it’ll be spot on. My Assistant Director Dara Beth has been amazing, as has my Stage Manager / Assistant Lighting Designer / The Widow – Ameera Conrad. They are excellent young directors in their own right and it’s been extremely valuable having their outside eyes on the play with me.
Also, when you have a cast as talented and clever and daring as mine is, it makes one’s job extremely easy.
What do you feel Shakespeare’s place is in South African theatre?
I’ve loved Shakespeare since I was a small child. I grew up at Maynardville; going with my dad since I was very young, and it was my first job out of university. I feel like there are a lot of parallels to be found in the modern world, and what has been so exciting about this production is that we’ve been able to take a classic text and bring it into the modern understanding, showing that there is a huge relevance and a lot to talk about from it.
Shakespeare can also be hella boring, but I think that if directors take the time to explore how it relates to a modern audience, there is a lot of value to it.
What do you hope the production brings to the discussion surrounding Shakespeare in South Africa?
For me, it has reignited my passion for Shakespeare, and that’s really something. All of our schools performances are sold out, which is incredible, and I hope that young people coming to watch have a good time, feel like they can access it, and walk away not only finding something relevant about it, but also engaging with the conversations that a play like The Taming of the Shrew brings up.
"My tongue will tell the anger of my heart / Or else my heart concealing it will break."
Do you have a favourite moment or piece of dialogue from the play?
So many things! One of my favourite things is not a specific moment, but in Act 1 Scene 2 we meet Petruchio, and a lot of the men in the play talk to each other. What happens in that scene is the plot gets explained about 4 times – each by a different person. It’s the ultimate mansplaining.
One of my other favourite lines is when Baptista – the father – has just broken up a fight between his daughters and he looks directly at the audience and says “Was ever a gentleman thus grieved as I?” – and it’s hilarious. It’s like when my dad gets a cold and it’s the absolute end of the world; it’s so wonderfully self-pitying, and Lynita Crofford plays it to perfection.
Another favourite, which breaks my heart, is when Kate (played by the magnificent Alicia McCormick) says “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart / Or else my heart concealing it will break”. It’s devastating.
The Taming of the Shrew will be running until 3 March. Look out for Part 2 of this Special Edition of the Interview Series, in which we speak to the actors involved in the Maynardville Shrew.