Stratford Upon Avon and on Tour
Taming of the Shrew: William Shakespeare
Runs: 3h, one interval, Stratford till 11 August. Then on Tour. Also broadcast performances in cinemas, bookable.
www.rsc.org.uk 22 3h, one interval. Stratford till 11 August, then tour. Also cinema broadcasts (bookable)
Review: Rod Dungate, 21 March 2019
Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, is heading up a policy of increasing diversity in the RSC’s work. In the acting space we should see a company that more accurately reflects our society as a whole.
In pursuit of this, virtually every character in this Taming of the Shrew is changed in gender.
This works well. But more than this opens up the possibility of presenting the real cruelty that lies at the centre of this play. The awful physical and psychological abuse that lies at the centre of the Petruchio-Katherine relationship is suddenly revealed afresh as it becomes a woman’s abuse against a male spouse. It is not worse because it is female on male, it is that we see it anew. And it is shocking. Moreover we might note that female violence against male spouses is significant, but, being such a taboo topic, even more hidden.
So far so good. We are set for a thrilling and disturbing performance. Even more so with Joseph Arkleys superb portrayal of Katherine at the centre. Arkley draws all our empathy; Katherine is clearly a man who can’t fit in, but doesn’t quite understand why, nor why nobody understands him. His frustration turns to anger and the anger to violence (and there’s a link to our times.) We fear for this Katherine, particularly as we know the way things will go.
Yet when push comes to a thrilling shove director Justin Audibert loses his bottle and opts for jaunty comedy with happy ending – everything this nasty play is not. An interpretation heavily hinted at throughout, and everything this play is not. Witness Bianco being auctioned off like a prize piece of cattle.
There are some strong performances. In particular from Claire Price, Petruchia; domineering and eccentric, but could well add a sharp edge of real nastiness. Also Richard Cles as Grumio who truly makes the text and the space his own.
There is a tendency, particularly among the younger actors, to speak the text rather than embodying it; to play the effect rather than creating a real world. Something that could not be levelled at neither Arkle nor Clews.
A witty production, then, from Audibert with some welcome surprises; the final sequence, though, is disappointingly spineless.
Baptista: Amanda Harris
Katherine: Joseph Arkley
Bianco: James Cooney
Petruchia: Claire Price
Hortensia: Amelia Donkor
Gremia: Sophie Stanton
Lucentia: Emily Johnstone
Trania: Laura Elsworthy
Biondella: Amy Trigg
Vincentia: Melody Brown
Grumio: Richard Clews
Curtis: Charlotte Arrowsmith
Servant: Aaron Thiara
Pedant: Hannah Azuonye
Widower: Leo Wan
A Tailor: Michael Patrick
Habadasher: Alex Jones
Servant: Alexander Mushore
Director: Justin Audibert
Set Design: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Costume Design: Hannah Clark
Lighting Design: Matt Peel
Composer: Ruth Chan
Sound Design: Claire Windsor
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Fight Directors: Rachel Brown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown
Company Voice and Text Work: Anna McSweeney
Assistant Director: Leigh Toney
Creative BSL Consultant: Brian Duffy
Music Director: Lindsay Miller