By William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Thursday 9th november 2006
This was the kind of production that gives The Taming of the Shrew a bad name. Being an all-male company, they’d come up with not only a masculine version of this play, but a very macho view of it. It felt like a double abuse – not only is this Kate beaten and starved into submission, but the lack of any female perspective added to the unpleasantness. Can these men only see violence and abuse in this play? Plus, having a man playing Kate probably allowed for more physical fighting, perhaps led them into it more, as if words of violence in the text must translate into violent action on the stage.
It’s not all bad, though. There were some good aspects to this production. This multi-talented crew showed off an amazing array of skills, especially with the music, which was always very good. Best of all was the guitar double for Hortensio. Other notable areas were also on display – the bare-arsed cheek of Petruchio and Grumio at the wedding probably pleased a number in the audience, and not just the women! The long queue of people bursting through the door at Baptista’s house when Petruchio first comes to woo was good fun, and the use of moveable wardrobes/doors etc. worked pretty well on the whole to create a sense of location fairly rapidly. Of all the performances, I probably enjoyed Bianca’s the most, although I felt her reactions during Kate’s final speech were a bit strange, and her character didn’t change quite as much as some portrayals I’ve seen. I also liked the way we were given an ‘order of service’ for the marriage before the start, although mixing the Christopher Sly and Kate Minola characters didn’t work out in the play itself. Otherwise, I found the lines very well delivered, and liked the multi-coloured chandelier very much (not usually a healthy sign, if chandeliers feature in the list of good points).
However, none of the characters were well defined, and the laughs mainly came from funny business rather than the text. There were some scenes which I felt were over-staged, and could have been trimmed down to better effect, and with all the clutter, I found I wasn’t so clear about who was in which household. I had to stop and think when the real Vincentio turns up to remember which characters are going to be in trouble when he spots them. Given that I know the play fairly well, how did newcomers fare?
This was a very dark reading of the play, which is fine, but it lost so much of the play’s natural humour, replacing it with made up stuff (some of which was quite good admittedly) so that I found the second half much less enjoyable than the first. Some of the fight choreography seemed pretty pointless, or perhaps it just wasn’t executed properly this time round. If I had written this in the interval, I would have given the performance three stars; sadly the second half knocked it back a bit.
Kate never really got going. Initially, she was more of a troublesome teenager, a refugee from one of those reality parenting programs, rather than a seriously troubled woman who needs tough love to awaken her sense of humour and allow her to function effectively in society. Let’s face it, she’s a real bitch at the start, and it’s not surprising her father’s washed his hands of her. He’s nothing to write home about either, though, selling his second, ‘much-loved’ daughter off to the highest bidder, and never mind what she thinks about it. Still, this production undermined so much of the good stuff in the play, that I just couldn’t enjoy it fully. Better luck next time.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me