The Taming Of The Shrew – February 2012

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 16th February 2012

Our seats tonight were centre front, on the aisle – great view. From here the bed design was much more obvious compared to the seats round the side. We saw a lot more, and the performance had definitely come on. Although some things were clearer with the better view, the cast also seemed to be more comfortable with the set and the production. Hopefully there are fewer trips to A&E now, too.

There was so much detail in the performances that I won’t be able to get more than a few things noted up. I noticed a lot of reactions within each scene from the characters on stage, and I think there was more comic business in some places, but perhaps I just didn’t see it all before. There were also one or two corrections to my previous notes, so I’ll go through the scenes in order.

The opening induction scene was easier to see from the front. There were shadows against the curtains along with the noises and the shouting, and when Sly was chased out of the pub, I think he rolled down the ramp. I noticed the lines about William the Conqueror this time, and after Sly passed out, the arrival of the huntsmen also came across much better from this angle. No real changes to the rest of the induction stuff, although Bartholomew seemed much more coquettish when he first turned up as the lady; he soon changed his tune when Sly sent the others out, even trying to clamber out of the window. I could see a lot more of Bartholomew’s horrified reactions when he was lying with Sly in the bed this time, watching the play, including when Sly rolled over on him and then fell asleep. He woke Sly up by slapping the top of his head.

The opening to the Taming bit was just as good as before, but again it was much clearer from this angle. Lucentio addressed the explanation of his background to Sly, to explain who he was, and shook his hand; this worked quite well I thought, and brought Sly even more into the performance as a whole. He also reacted a lot to the action of the play, particularly applauding Kate. I think the lord also came on for this scene, to watch and enjoy, but I found that a bit distracting.

The doors at the back had been opened up for this bit, showing steps curving round with a door in the middle. Several people were lounging around on the steps, and this area also served for the front of the church later on. On the whole though, I didn’t feel this area was fully integrated into the rest of the set, and knowing that it was almost completely invisible from the side seats made it seem even more redundant.

The arrival of Kate in the scold’s fiddle wasn’t so much of a shock this time, and she really lashed out at everyone in the vicinity once she’d been freed. Bianca mainly stood on the ramp for this scene, and I noticed that Lucentio tried to clamber up on it to reach her and was being held back by Tranio. After Hortensio explained his plan to find a husband for Kate to free up Bianca, Gremio spat on his hand to seal the deal with a firm handshake, despite a little squeal of ‘no’ from Hortensio. So his hanky was deployed even earlier than I’d spotted last time.

After the rummaging under the bedspread by Sly and Bartholomew, the lord left a hip flask on Sly’s stomach when he was lying (asleep?) in the corner. When Kate came on for the next scene she was swigging from one as well, and I noticed a flask in Petruchio’s hand too – definitely a theme. This was the scene where Kate interrogates Bianca about her suitors. Kate appeared at the back, smoking and drinking, and after she strolled down the ramp, Bianca appeared at the doorway, trussed up like a chicken. Her hands and feet were tied together, she had an apple (I think) in her mouth, and her face was brightly coloured. As she came closer I could see she had very red cheeks and big black eyebrows with a moustache. Crude but cheerful, and clearly Kate’s handiwork.

As Bianca teetered at the top of the ramp, she realised the only way she could get down was to roll down, so she blew out her gag, toppled over, and rolled down to the bottom. She managed to get up, and hopped around the stage a bit so she could interact with Kate, including their fights. She finished up on the floor at the front with Kate trying to smother her with a pillow. That’s sisters for you.

When Petruchio arrived and was being ‘wooed’ by Hortensio, there wasn’t a pause tonight after “Her only fault”, but the line got an even bigger laugh anyway. The audience also spotted the hanky going down on the ramp to protect Hortensio’s bum, and that got a laugh as well. When the suitors turned up at Baptista’s house, there was a strong reaction from all present when Tranio introduced himself as Lucentio, son of Vincentio of Pisa. His ‘father’ was clearly known to be a very wealthy man – Gremio blanched, while Baptista looked astounded and then very happy to have such a wealthy suitor for his daughter. Petruchio had already indicated that he was well pleased with the dowry on offer for Kate, and there was a similar reaction when he saw her for the first time – “Wow”!

During Kate and Petruchio’s first scene together, she took a long time to answer him at first. He’d gone through his options beforehand, about how he’ll contradict everything she does, and with this long delay he came back onto the centre of the stage – he’d been waiting for her response at the foot of the ramp – and redid the “say she be mute” bit, which got a good laugh. Then she started to have a go at him. This was typical of this production, and unusual in that most Kates fire off their remarks very quickly, while this Kate took her time to come up with her witticisms. They had quite a physical level to their ‘wooing’; the pissing on the floor was still in, but seemed to work better this time, and I was aware that she was doing her best to put him off. She had already felt the attraction when they’d been lying together on the floor, and I reckoned she was too scared to risk falling in love, with Petruchio or anyone else. It was after she felt the attraction that she got up and tried to leave, but Petruchio brought her back with his response.

After the mad ones have had their turn, the regular suitors were left to arrange matters with Baptista for Bianca’s hand. I noticed the knob references during Tranio’s claims on behalf of Lucentio – he mimed a huge erection and gargantuan balls. These references went on all through the performance, but I hadn’t seen them so much before. This bit was just the most obvious.

The scene with the tutors attempting to woo Bianca was as before, and still very funny, with Cambio taking off his glasses to show he was, in fact, Lucentio. He did the same thing later on when his father had arrived, and he and Bianca did a little ta-da thing when revealing that ‘Cambio is changed into Lucentio’.

The wedding was as before, but there was more visible through the doors from this angle; we could see the people coming from the church this time. Grumio had ‘Petruchio’ written on his chest this time, and Kate didn’t have any difficulty getting the word “entreat” out this time, but otherwise it was much the same.

After the interval, Petruchio’s servants were draped over the chairs as I described before, and this time I saw that Sly came on without his underpants, ran across the stage, grabbed the pan which one of the servants was holding in his hand, and made off with it as cover. He was also among the servants during the next scene, and I got the impression that he was gradually being drawn back into his own life, even though he kept popping up during various scenes shouting ‘I’m a lord, I’m a lord’.

When Kate arrived, she crawled through one servant’s legs and collapsed on the floor. The food was brought, and she was about to eat when Petruchio suggested they give thanks. She put the food down, reluctantly, and held her hands in silent prayer along with him. She finished too soon though; after her hasty ‘amen’ Petruchio said ‘no’ and continued the prayer. I noticed he was watching her during this. After the servants had all left, and Petruchio was on the floor with Kate telling her it would be better for them to fast, she tried to undo his trousers but he stopped her. I got the impression he knew their relationship wouldn’t work until Kate accepted him properly, and she was just trying to find some way to connect to him – she just didn’t understand what he wanted.

The next scene, where Tranio and Hortensio swore to leave Bianca forever, was definitely clearer from these seats. Sly popped in a couple of times when the panels were opened, but otherwise it was all Lucentio and Bianca, still going at it hammer and tongs, and drooping, exhausted, out of a window at the end. When they did emerge, I noticed Cambio was holding his satchel over his nether regions at the end of that scene – why? Hadn’t he already got his end away? Mind you, at that age it doesn’t take long…. Hortensio revealed himself by ripping off his moustache – very painful, and as funny as Cambio taking off his glasses to reveal Lucentio.

Grumio brought a chair on for Kate for the food scene. After he left, Kate used a spare bit of rope, which just happened to have a noose at the end, to pretend to have hung herself. She lay on the floor with the noose round her neck and one foot resting on the overturned chair. Hortensio was alarmed when he saw her, and I reckon Petruchio was concerned for a moment, but he checked it out and knew she was fooling straightaway. After this, she tried to throttle him with the rope and he played along, making choking sounds. When she realised he was joking rather than choking, she let him go. It was when she was telling him that she would speak her mind that she got the chair to stand on, so she could make her point face to face.

The model wore a white fur trimmed coat which she took off to reveal the red dress underneath. Was there more being ripped off tonight? Maybe not, but she grabbed the fur coat to cover her embarrassment as she ran off. When they were arguing over what time it was, Kate took a peek at Petruchio’s watch to confirm the time before carrying on their little disagreement.

On the trip to visit Baptista Minola, Grumio dropped a tennis racquet as they came on and a member of the audience had to help retrieve it. Kate had a slightly impatient look on her face at this point. I still couldn’t see any particular reason for her change of approach, but it was still fun to watch. She was carrying a triple candlestick, and brandished this to illustrate the “rush candle” line.

I still couldn’t see what Kate and Petruchio were up to during the party scene. Bianca was a bit drunk in the final scene, and Tranio had a bandage on his nose. Everyone was listening to Kate for once, and she had to think about what to say. She meant it all, although she was talking about Petruchio rather than men in general (this was from the post-show). This time when she threw a chair, nobody minded – that was how she cleared the space to kneel for her final offer. Petruchio knelt down and put his hands on Kate’s feet after she’d knelt down to him, and it was clear he was very much in love with her by this time. At the end, as Kate and Petruchio snuggled under the covers at the back, she held up two fingers to the rest of them – so not a complete transformation then.

I thought the ending might have changed, with some of the rougher characters beating up Sly before the Lord came on with Bartholomew and left the money on his chest. Bartholomew didn’t leave the scarf this time. The performance still ended with Marion Hackett standing on the stage looking at Sly, who had passed out on the stage with the money on his chest, and I still have no clue what it was meant to convey, but as we’d enjoyed ourselves I didn’t waste too much time thinking about it.

The Sly framework was done well enough, but I still felt it held the play back. I was able to see the Lord and Bartholomew at the back a couple of times, but they just disappeared and there was still a gap between the induction story and the main play. The crudity was even more apparent from this angle, with Kate mooning several times, and I noticed tonight how smart Tranio is; he used a classical reference at least once, and his mind was certainly sharper than Lucentio’s (not difficult). Janet Fullerlove, the actress brought in to replace the one with the broken ankle, was up to speed and played both Marion Hackett and the widow tonight and did both very well; we’d seen the understudy for the widow last time.

The combination of our better position and the natural ‘bedding down’ of the performance made for a more enjoyable evening than last time, and this is definitely one of the better productions we’ve seen of this play.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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