The Taming of the Shrew
Stanwix Art Theatre
Saturday 7th May
I entered Stanwix Art Theatre and the smell of a freshly buffed corridor threw me back to my good old university days: wearing dresses over jeans, playing rounders on the field, eating 99p breakfasts hung-over with a crazy German wearing a suit made out of stolen beer mats, whilst wishing the drama students would stop their incessant singing in the canteen. But tonight was different; tonight I was bringing my reluctant but supportive husband to his first Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew.
Upon entering the familiar theatre, Prince’s Purple Rain bellows out of the theatre doors whilst we are ushered into the intimate seating area. I was startled when a lively Biondello played by James Boyce pushed passed me hollering loudly whilst holding a red plastic cup filled with alcohol. We had walked directly into a full-on party atmosphere with drunks, a glitter ball, and party lights. The cast were dancing, chatting, and singing whilst a convincing drunk played by Antoni Wilson was slumped near a wall attempting to stand up straight. And immediately I began to smile. I liked where this youthful production was heading.
Once the audience were seated around the theatre we were introduced to Minola Baptista who is host of the lively party and father of two daughters. This is where Gremio and Hortensio discover that they will not be considered as suitors to marry his beautiful Bianca until her older “acid tongued” Sister Kate is married off first. Gremio becomes despondent at the bitter news after all – what man, “is so very a fool to be married to hell.” The line was delivered with such eloquence and precision by the talented Andrew Bottoms that husbands around the room all glanced at their wives knowingly before bursting into laughter.
The performance was a comfortable 1.30 hours long. Directed by Emily Reutlinger the play can be described as a typical “daddy’s girl tale” with men falling over themselves for the pious and virtuous Bianca. Within the typical misogynistic thread of a play set in the late 1500s, the men compete with each other to win Bianca’s fair heart. However knowing they have to marry off Katerina, a foul mouthed, high ponytailed, bandana / hooped earring wearing badass from Padua. A temporary alliance is formed between Gremio and Horentnsio to marry off the “devil” Kate to whoever will have her, whilst simultaneously plotting to woo Bianca by deception. One of the comedy’s main motifs is the role of identity within society. Costumes and social roles is such an integral part of the story and I was let down by the wardrobe. Unsightly security high-vis vests to signify the lower classes and Petruchio’s banana wedding attire cheapened the show. However, the poor choice of costume design did not distract from some wonderful performances.
In a modern gender twist the lead roles were played by Laura Ashenden (Katerina) and Carly Harding (Petruchio). The pair had solid stage presence independently; however I was not convinced that these two were an ideal match as Husband and Wife. The sparring scene when Katerina first meets Petruchio is a battle of wits, fuelled with fire and passion and is one of my favourite scenes. Yet despite their good performances overall the quintessential beauty and humour of the banter was devoid of passion and fire. Yasmin Summer acted with such life and vigour that it was difficult not to love and laugh at her portrayal of Grumio. Watching her perform I was convinced that her natural temperament and humour would have suited the loutish Petruchio role.
The star performer of the evening was Andrew Thompson who played the horny and cunning Lucentio to perfection. Reminding me of a young David Tennant his presence and skill on stage was captivating. Upon arriving in Padua he is struck by the fair Bianca’s beauty. Love struck he falls to the floor lusting and swooning after her as he slithers across the floor saying, “oh hello!” before he is unashamedly dragged across the stage by this ankles by Tranio played by Beth Kenny. The comedic timing and delivery of the line sent the audience into fits of laughter.
The comic humour was also brought to life by Jake Bell during the punishment scene where Katerina is “killed with kindness” by Petruchio as she is starved, sleep deprived and stripped of fineries. Typically a brutish scene of domestic misogynistic power, Jake’s natural comic timing, and acting brought the audience to tears with a lettuce and some well-timed foul language.
The inter-twining of both ancient and modern language allowed the audience to understand some of the comedic subtleties that can sometimes be overlooked by those without a natural ear for the Shakespearean tongue which added another level of brilliance to the show, adding a slight party feel.
The finale of the show was surprising, after Laura Ashenden (Katerina) performs her dutiful monologue to the disobedient wives during the wedding party; the cast take their bow in an unusual but delightful manner. Bringing onto stage acoustic guitars and drums – Pink’s “Raise your glass” is sung by the cast and audience to a rustic beat. Such a raw version of the song combined with a simple choreographed dance routine ends the play as it begins, with a love story at a party. With the audience joining in and singing, “dirty little freaks” I am brought back to the attitudes of 21st century women.
Overall the production was a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed; however the true measure of success was going to be Stephen’s reaction to the comedy. As a newbie to the Shakespearean world his opinion was crucial. Did Reutlinger do The Taming of the Shrew justice? Did she make a die-hard Star Wars fan enjoy Shakespeare? When I asked Stephen what he thought of the show his words were, “It was fantastic!” As a non-Shakespearean freak like his wife, he understood the play despite having some difficulty with the language; he laughed at the gags, sang the Pink song, and was thoroughly entertained. It also stimulated a two hour discussion with him concerning the role of women and men in the modern world, Katerina and Petruchio’s domesticated relationship and the nature of women and man in society and the roles they play. And for me, well, that’s a show that’s winning! Well done Emily.
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Reviewer : Katrina Hewgill