Taming of the Shrew, 3***, London, to 5 August

by William Shakespe
3 ***

The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH to 5 August 2017.
Tues-Sat 7.45pm
Runs 1hr 35 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 0333 666 3366.
Review: William Russell 20 July.

Bright, breezy and lots of fun
Ricky Dukes’ Lazarus, an inventive company especially skilled at ensemble work, has come up with a bright, breezy, rough and ready version of The Taming of the Shrew directed by Sara Reimers. It is a difficult play because of the taming methods used by Petruchio to quell his rebellious bride, and is even more so now in this gender equality obsessed age.

Is Katherina abused or not? Women for long were men’s chattels, except that it did not stop some strong women from ruling the roost and many women from doing exactly what they wanted, although being well off did play a significant part in that. Either way there is that final speech of submission which Reimers deals with by getting Katherina, a spirited turn by Charlotte Dowding, to deliver it straight and then reach for a volume of the Collected Works, pull out what one takes to be the relevant pages, tear them up and toss them in the air. In other words – telling the Bard to get lost.

On the other hand the speech is open to other interpretations and it is perfectly possible to take from it as written that Katherina has rumbled what Petruchio is up to, realised how to deal with him, and the hapless poppycock braggart will live to rue the day he thought he could boss her about.

One thing that jars is that while it is fair enough to make Baptista a widow with marriageable daughters – Dawn Bush does her very nicely indeed – Ms Reimers should have told the cast to stop using the word sir when addressing Baptista. It is just plain sloppy for a company which apparently explored how language constructs people’s sense of self in rehearsal, and while you can get away with mangling the text and cutting lots of lines being sloppy like this is a bad idea.

Much of it is funny, everyone goes at it with a will, and there is some not very relevant audience participation at the beginning as they have included the totally beside the point Christopher Sly play within a play stuff which seemed to amuse the audience.

It is harmless enough, except that it introduces us to a kind master of ceremonies in Samuel Lane, who, one takes, since he is a strapping lad with decent looks, will be Petruchio later on. In fact he plays Lucentio, the bride hunter who opts for Batista’s other daughter, Bianca. In due course Matthew Foster appears as a splendidly slippery Petruchio. Sabrina Laursion is suitably horrid as Bianca, the pretty younger sister from hell and the cause of Katherina’s bad temper – she is not so much a shrew as an intelligent not very pretty woman fed to the back teeth at playing second fiddle to this minx.

As to whether the play is part farce, part tragedy as Ms Reimers has it, depends on how you look at the text. For me it is a farce and there is nothing tragic about it. Katherina wins, just as I reckon Shakespeare intended she should. while Bianca gets her just deserts in a less than perfect husband. Petruchio although he does not know it has been routed and the other men also stuffed by the women they have acquired. So where is the tragedy? Certainly there is no hint of it in this relentlessly jolly night out version of the play.

Katherina: Charlotte Dowding.
Petruchio: Matthew Foster.
Bianca: Sabrina Laurison.
Lucentio: Samuel Lane.
Trianio: Evangelina Dickson.
Hortensio: Shiv Rabheru.
Biondello/Grumio: Rachel Smart.
Gremio: CJ de Mooi.
Sly: Gareth Balai.
Baptista: Dawn Bush.

Director: Sara Reimers.
Costume & Design: Rachel Dingle.
Lighting Design: Stuart Glover.
Sound Design: Connor McConnell.
Movement Director: Julia Cave.
Artistic Director: Ricky Dukes.
Dramaturg: John King.

2017-07-21 10:55:45

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