by William Shakespeare.

Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 29 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat 18-20 Oct 1.30pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 September.

Too tame but quite shrewd.
A tang of the earth is tangible through the first act of Robin Norton-Hale’s cut-down Shrew, where stallholder Baptista Minola and family (of Brixton, apparently) are the only Black people among visiting smart-set suitors.

Not that his younger daughter Bianca’s nails would be dirtied by soil. Gleamingly sophisticated, her expression’s charming as her mind is set on what – or who – she wants. Not that she’s downright unpleasant – nobody is in this surprisingly genial outing.

Even the shrew. Rough but natural by the side of Simone James’ well-cultivated figure, Elexi Walker’s Katherine might put rope round her sister’s wrists, but it doesn’t seem too tight. And there’s none of the usual cruelty.

As for Petruchio, he’s a bit of a lad. But his “Kiss me Kate,” offers no challenge; this pair would be affectionately snogging more than once if her family or his friends didn’t keep interrupting. Then he pushes her too far, and she becomes disaffected.

Back at his home, the cruelty of his starving her is bypassed as she easily lays her hands on food, despite not seeming hungry and merely taking the odd nibble. So it becomes unclear what this scene’s for. Especially when the pair merely differ over her new clothes; only the poor tailor seems upset.

Petruchio’s remarkably mild-mannered when mixing-up sun and moon. And while their return to the Minolas’ neatly becomes a tube journey where a hapless male passenger is object of Petruchio’s insistence he’s a fair young maiden, the point is so understated as to be – well, pointless.

Norton-Hale’s cuts leave this character adrift, while the final scene’s reduced from three to two couples. Not necessarily a loss; Kate’s final speech – the play’s most uncomfortable part for modern audiences – becomes touching in her confidence Petruchio would never want her to lay her hand beneath his foot.

Without Walker’s strong-minded performance this would all make less impact. Acting elsewhere treats the script as realistic, adding forced expression and physical gestures to ‘explain’ what’s being said, muddying the impact. A pity, for there’s an intriguing, if reductive, attempt here to accommodate the play with today.

Petruchio: Simon Darwen.
Lucentio: Will Featherstone.
Baptista: Dave Fishley.
Tranio: Simon Ginty.
Bianca: Simone James.
Gremio: Matthew Newman.
Hortensio: Giles Roberts.
Katherine: Elexi Walker.
Grumio: Sarah Winn.

Director: Robin Norton-Hale.
Designer: Cherry Truluck.
Lighting: Richard Williamson.
Sound: Sebastian Willan.
Assistant director: Elouise West.
Assistant designer: Alberta Jones.

2011-10-14 12:16:28

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