A raucous Taming of the Shrew set in the Wild West crowns the 30th season of Vancouver’s own beloved Bard on the Beach festival at its home in Vanier Park.

Its familiar story is the stuff of farce: Petruchio, who has unashamedly come to Padua in order to “wive it wealthily,” encounters and woos a shrewish, waspish woman, Kate. Of course, in the #MeToo era, Shakespeare’s take on the relationship of the sexes seems hopelessly outdated. Indeed, by any standards, how Petruchio sets about taming his wife borders on cruelty, as he starves and exhausts her into submission. Just as well, then, that the production takes some well-intended liberties with the script. Though these do not necessarily always work convincingly, particularly in a moment when some of Petruchio’s lines are given to Kate, a modernizing twist at the end is more satisfying.

In any case, one should perhaps put such concerns aside, as the play is clearly the main thing. Echoing the company’s memorable 2007 production in the style of a spaghetti Western and inspired by such old-time films as those of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, this Taming features a saloon, a campfire, period music, and even a “Gabby Hayes” character. Like a bygone era’s relatively innocent Westerns, which kept their bloodshed off-screen, its plentiful punctuation by gunfire and cowboy songs should not limit its appeal.

Current fans of Bard on the Beach will naturally embrace this roustabout production, beautifully mounted and costumed, and enlivened by an energetic cast. Others who may consider Shakespeare somewhat unapproachable will find it an accessible introduction to one of Vancouver’s most prized cultural activities.

Another main-stage production at Bard on the Beach may appeal even to the latter audience: Lee Hall’s play Shakespeare in Love further develops for a different medium many of the themes of Tom Stoppard’s Oscar-winning film by the same name.

Charlie Gallant and Ghazal Azarbad in Bard on the Beach’s Shakespeare in Love. (Photo and Image Design: Emily Cooper)

The upper-class heroine is ambitious to break down the barrier that kept women from performing on stage – which also ties in with the #MeToo movement. Shakespeare, a frustrated playwright struggling with writer’s block, is trying to come up with a script for “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate King’s Daughter.” The way this morphs into Romeo and Juliet with the aid of rival playwright Christopher Marlowe makes possible a host of other delights: Queen Elizabeth I as a theatre enthusiast, particularly of plays involving dogs; rival theatre producers constrained by Puritan objections and financial difficulties; a passionate romance between Will Shakespeare and the lovely Viola de Lesseps; and, above all, a dazzlingly witty script. One need not be a Shakespeare expert to appreciate the deluge of comic and farcical invention, though a passing knowledge of Romeo and Juliet and the world of Elizabethan theatre will enhance the experience.

The company’s clever staging gives the play the fluidity of a movie. A fine ensemble cast performs with conviction and boundless energy.  Beautifully costumed and artfully presented, this production will undoubtedly be the hit of the summer season. Expect capacity crowds and get your tickets early.