The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare
Runs: 2h 55m: one interval: till 7 March
Shame about the gender reversal. Otherwise terrific
The Taming of the Shrew is almost universally well known, but not universally well liked. Modern audiences have reservations about the play. On the face of it, the plot flies in the face of contemporary assumptions about gender equality: a husband brow-beating a new wife into submission is not nowadays the stuff of a good night out.
Right from the opening ball scene, where the women are leading their male partners, it’s clear that director Justin Audibert has opted for an extreme response to the problem. He does a gender reversal so that male characters become female and vice versa.
Names are adapted accordingly, except for some reason that of Katherine, now a son instead of a daughter. But supporting male parts, especially where the character is already something of a dogsbody in Shakespeare’s original, tend to go unaltered in both gender and name. Petruchia’s servant Grumio (a flawless performance from Richard Clews) is an obvious example.
For someone not wholly familiar with the play, gender reversal offers huge potential for confusion. Better to have opted for the irony approach where, for instance, Katherine’s submission speeches are delivered along with knowing looks at the audience, tongue-in-cheek.
Best of all, why not assume we’re sufficiently grown up to accept that a play written over 400 years ago might not perfectly reflect current social attitudes? Afterall, who walks out of Oedipus Rex nowadays just because a majority of the modern audience doesn’t believe in the gods?
It’s a rare treat these days to experience Shakespeare done in Elizabethan costume, so this production is a visual feast. Similarly, the songs and period music are top rate. There’s also an exciting Latino-sounding number done by Petruchio’s servants immediately after the interval.
Acting is well up to the standard of this three-play RSC tour. Claire Price, dagger worn over her dress, is a wonderful Petruchia, and Joseph Arkley demonstrates his astonishing versatility as Katherine (he’s also Lucio in Measure for Measure). Laura Elsworthy playing Trania as loud-mouthed northern works well. So does Amy Trigg’s Biondella, darting about the stage in a wheelchair.
Despite the excision of the tiresome Christopher Sly framing device, at nearly three hours, the play is still very long. But it’s a pleasure throughout.
Baptista: Amanda Harris
Katherine: Joseph Arkley
Bianco: James Cooney
Petruchia: Claire Price
Hortensia: Amelia Donkor
Gremia: Sophie Stanton
Lucentia: Emily Johnston
Trania: Laura Elsworthy
Biondella: Amy Rigg
Vincentia: Melody Brown
Grumio: Richard Clews
Curtis: Charlotte Arrowsmith
Servant: Aaron Thiara
The Pedant: Hannah Azuonye
A Widower: Leo Wan
A Tailor: Michael Patrick
An Haberdasher: Alex Jones
Servant: Alexander Mushore
Director: Justin Audibert
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Costume Designer: Hannah Clark
Lighting Designer: Matt Peel
Composer: Ruth Chann
Sound Designer: Claire Windsor
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams/Ruth Cooper-Brown