Millenium update: this is one lady you can’t tame.
Like a seer from Greek tragedy who shoots the bullshit at 150 paces, in her self-described Shakespearean takedown, unforgettable Gillian English in 10 Things I Hate About The Taming Of The Shrew gives you multiple reasons why reviving misogynist literature and theatre is culturally abusive. Living in an arch-patriarchal world, this comes as sweet relief. The kind she notes you need after 3,000 years.
You can’t miss her. Super talented, bold, articulate, scarily well-educated, professionally trained, theatre-experienced, and ready to take on the BIG themes, both in the literary and real world, this Nova Scotian-born Hobart resident is a superstar two steps sidewards from mainstream culture. She should be at its centre. Ms. English needs to start her own political campaign- her show had the feel of a call to agency better than any rally I’ve recently attended.
We came for the laughs. We saw her cool sparkly stage outfit and penchant for swearing as her chosen tongue. We loved the beautiful choreography of her gait, her expressive face, large arm gestures, hair throws, dramatic intent, and piercing eye gaze. We learnt of the literary canon and we bowed at the altar of masculinist idolatry. We came with the best, corrupted intentions.
Gillian’s theme is this: not our fault- we’ve been told for 500 years plus that Bill’s appropriated tales of domestic cruelty and silencing of women’s voices is fine art. It’s the narrative the whole world happily blinds itself to.
What commenced as a trip down cinematic adaptation memory lane of the 1990s, when a series of Hollyweird Shakespearean riffs made it into commercial film, we got a 101 update on what glamourising gaslighting, kidnapping, arranged marriage, coercion and domestic violence does for us under the guise of absolute genius©. There has never been a more present time to out this agenda and she uses her Masters- level command of performance to serve up her detailed interrogation of dominant ideology.
She deserves an award for this show, it’s so inspiring.
Sprinkled amidst her usual reflections on her flawed past (dicks and dates, study debt, parenting styles, institutional prejudices), we walked our way straight into a feminist agenda about empowerment. We learnt life-saving techniques to disable potential rapists, pack assaults, or female misogyny. We learnt about her loathing of living in 24/7 fear of possible sexual assault, her dislike of her body parts and loathing of the objectification they attract. There were few areas of life she didnt shine her intelligent mind’s light into, even giving advice to men on how to use their privilege.
Like all comedians, a clever mind lies behind the laughs and she analyses a combo of the everyday, bureaucracy, high art, and Medicare office visits as a pathway to enlightenment. She offers up a local government official as women’s champion of individual rights when compared with the puppet-like ‘woman’ Shakespeare gave us as Katherina, female subject of the play’s title, the Shrew who must be tamed by prospective husband Petruchio. She cuts through the florid language of his works, highlighting obvious messages of domestic partner abuse by Dads, guys, lovers, friends, and siblings.
Part evangelical lecture, whole battle cry, English is electrifying to witness. Her scripts are witty, fun, personal, international, philosophical, historical, and part conversational. The crowd whooped, clapped, cheered, and sat captivated by her content. Her genius, strong argument, ability to pull out text samples, stats, and personal experiences to back up her assertions at the tips of her painted fingernails could terrify an unprepared opposition. As she says: this isnt just a show about dick jokes of which many Comedy Festival shows worldwide are comprised.
You will love her like a groupee, wondering: is all her banter this stage-ready?! An artist, thinker, and writer still at the top of game stunned me yet further with this show, going deeply personal and very meaningful. This show is a great moment in a small room which could be MICF-at-the-MCG.
If men write for and about women’s lives, and contemporary stories are not written for our own times, what can this mean? Only that we are recycling old shit and the shit is cruel.
English’s 10 Things is a must see this festival. This is a visitation with a bard for our own times, equal in stature, artfulness, creativity, writing, pitch, and performance as any on the Elizabethan stage. It’s better than Bill’s- her material is original.
– Sarah Wallace
is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne. A performing arts and English literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
10 Things I Hate About The Taming Of The Shrew shows 28 March-21 April, 9.30pm Tuesday – Saturday, 8.30pm Sunday (60 minutes) at Shell room, Coopers Malthouse. Book tickets here.
The venue is accessible.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Gillian English.
Images: Dahlia Katz Design: Piper Scott.