Kiss Me Kate – August 2012

9/10

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Trevor Nunn

CFT and Old Vic co-production

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 9th August 2012

As predicted, this was a much improved performance. The whole production was much clearer, and seeing it from a central position gave us a much better view. The scene changes were quicker and the dances covered the action better, and although there were one or two very minor fluffs early on tonight the whole show went very smoothly. Because of that, and possibly because of our improved position, I could spot the deliberate errors this time. There was a running gag that one of the dancers couldn’t get her steps right, and they had several extra practice runs to help her. She fell over and knocked into the other dancers, but eventually she cracked it! And of course there are deliberate mistakes during the onstage musical when Lilli/Kate throws her tantrums, and these showed up better tonight as well.

Kate’s I Hate Men was even better than before, and all the songs and dances had come on. Bill/Lucentio was fully up to speed, and First and Second Man were much better. The dialogue was much sharper, and I caught a lot of the lines and lyrics that I’d missed first time round. It wasn’t so clear to me that the General wasn’t right for Lilli tonight – don’t know what’s changed there – but I found Lilli’s leave-taking and Fred’s reprise of So In Love very moving. We were a noisy audience tonight (including some surprising coughs) and were treated to one encore for Always True To You In My Fashion and two for Brush Up Your Shakespeare. And we applauded mightily at the end as well, with more sniffles on my part. Great fun.

Post-show:

There was lots of humour, especially from the General (Mark Heenehan). Hannah declared they were a very happy company, then Gremio ratted on her ‘voice resetting’ noises backstage. She retaliated with the way he frequently changed his lines, and it wasn’t long before the General was remarking that her earlier comment about it being a very happy company…..  Clive Rowe kept disagreeing with everyone else, and with Adam Garcia apparently dancing despite a slipped disc (an earlier performance) you might be forgiven for thinking that life backstage resembled the story of the musical. Fortunately the humour shone through, and they clearly are enjoying themselves very much. Mind you, the backstage action with all the very quick costume changes is a whole show in itself.

On the transfer to the Old Vic, the cast are looking forward to it. Most of them are going, and will get another two weeks to rehearse the changes. The choreographer hasn’t seen the Old Vic stage yet, so doesn’t know how things will change on the proscenium arch stage. At least the Festival Theatre stage gives them plenty of room for the dances. The costumes needed some changes to accommodate the dancing; apparently there was no coordination between the designer and the choreographer beforehand. The slanted set has given the cast some problems as well. There’s a mark on the stage to tell them where the centre is, but it’s hard to see and this may explain some of the difficulty we had on our first viewing.

After the general had finished wowing us with the casual mention of his chat with Kevin Spacey the other day (get her!), he was able to say that this is the first production from Chichester to transfer to the Old Vic since the days when the Old Vic was the National Theatre. (Hopefully they’ll know it by then, he added.)

Trevor Nunn’s experience with Shakespeare came in very handy; he gave the cast a day workshop on delivering Shakespearean dialogue, and apparently changed the script in some way to make it closer to the original play. He also chose to have Taming – The Musical done in Elizabethan costume, which hadn’t been done before (I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what was said).

It’s hard for the cast when they have several days off while Heartbreak House is on; as we learned from the Singin’ In The Rain post-show, the muscles need regular use to keep the performance standard up. Didn’t manage to ask if they’ll be doing a cast recording – I do hope so.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Taming Of The Shrew – July 2012

9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Toby Frow

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Thursday 19th July 2012

Brilliant production! The whole cast were excellent, and the choice to do the play simply, with few fancy stagings but a lot of good business, led to a clear and enjoyable performance which the audience participated in fully.

The set was slightly revised from before. The triangle at the front had been chopped short, with a ramp leading up to the front edge from deep in the pit. The side stairs were still there, and the scaffolding had been replaced with a colonnade and balcony in distressed wood, with the tattered remains of white paint. The balcony backdrop showed the cityscape of fair Padua, except when it had a blue curtain and a deer’s head was hung on the balcony to represent Petruchio’s country estate. The furniture removal men were in full swing as usual, and the musicians wore natty red numbers while the rest of the cast were in appropriate gear for the time and place.

The musicians started proceedings with the latest entries in the mediaeval hit parade, but were interrupted by a rather coarse gentleman in an England shirt, who was obviously the worse for wear. Well, we’re not novices when it comes to this play, so we weren’t worried, but the stewards were, and they were having the devil of a time trying to get him out of the theatre. He broke away from one young lady after kicking her in a nasty place, and ran onto the stage; well, staggered onto the stage. The toilet humour continued with him pissing against the far pillar and then spraying the liquid around a bit, especially over one poor chap at the front of the crowd. After being accosted by a security guard (they managed to find one? Not using G4S, then) he collapsed on the stage and was pronounced dead.

Whispered conversations between the guard and stage manager led to the announcement that the show would have to be cancelled – we voiced our disappointment. Some of the actors had snuck on stage to see what was going on, and after some protests from the stage manager, proceeded to suggest that they could do the show anyway; it helped that the drunk had recovered enough to throw up on the stage, thereby saving himself from an early grave. The suggestion was made “What think you, if he was conveyed to bed…”, and we were into the induction, with us, the audience, being fully complicit this time in the deception practised on Sly. Later, when Sly was asking for assurance that he was, indeed, a lord, he turned to the audience, and we, shameful liars, all called out ‘yes’. (He did check with one woman at the front first, but presumably he didn’t believe her.) This was a good way to start things, as it got the audience very involved from the beginning.

When the actors were trying to persuade Sly – “O this it is that makes your lady mourn” etc. – they chanted the lines and then sang them. When Pip Donaghy wanted to deliver “O noble lord, bethink thee of thy birth…”, the others kept on singing the words after him, and he had several goes at telling them to stop before they all finally shut up and let him speak the lines unaccompanied. One other thing with this staging; when they were setting the initial scene for Sly’s awakening, one actor held up two framed pictures, as if they were on a wall. Later, these pictures were held up while they described them to Sly, along with a frame which an actor posed behind.

The actors already being on stage, the lines about their arrival and the arrangements for the play were ditched. A tall lad was chosen to play Sly’s wife, and after he persuaded Sly that sex would be a bad idea, they went down to the pit and stood at the front of the stage to watch the play. This lasted till the two young men started taking off their clothes, and with cries of “obscenity” (not in the text), Sly and his lady departed. No further reference was made to this sub-plot afterwards, thankfully, and it was good to see them sticking to the text as we have it for once.

To get back to the start of the play: while Lucentio and Tranio were introducing themselves and discussing their ‘to do’ list for their stay in Padua, there were various sober churchmen and the like sitting on the benches round the pillars, along with a refreshments seller. The two scholars on our side held small pamphlets, and when Tranio was talking about studying philosophy, he nicked one of the pamphlets to demonstrate his point. (He did return it.) The seller supplied him with two cups of something or other, and Lucentio drained his willingly before the line “Gramercies, Tranio, well dost thou advise”.

When the older gentlemen realised that Kate was coming on stage – I think there was some noise to that effect – they scarpered as quickly as they could, and the seller was so keen to get away that he left his tray behind. This was an early clue to Kate’s reputation, and her first appearance did nothing to change that. Samantha Spiro’s Kate was so feared by everyone in Padua that she only had to pretend to throw her apple at the men and they flinched. Bianca was good as gold in this scene, and Lucentio fell in love with her from the balcony, where he and Tranio observed the scene. The dialogue wasn’t entirely clear at this point, but my knowledge of the play got me through it OK. When her father slammed the door shut in her face, Kate stepped back and took a run at it, knocking it flat with a ferocious kick. Definitely not a woman to meddle with.

Gremio waved goodbye to Hortensio several times, keen for him to leave so he could disclose to us his cunning plan, but Hortensio lingered long enough to hear the details. He soon persuaded Gremio of their common interest – finding a husband for Kate – and they left together, while Lucentio and Tranio came down from the balcony and went through their routine. Lucentio was so far gone that he knelt down and kissed the stage – Bianca hadn’t even walked on that bit! He went further and further until he was lying on the ramp, and when he came back up to kneeling, his sword was in a suggestive position. I couldn’t see Tranio’s reactions to Lucentio’s idea that they could change places – sometimes he’s actually keen to do it, sometimes not – but this was when they started shedding their clothes and Sly and his ‘wife’ left.

The two lads went further than usual, mind you, with only their underpants preventing an indecency prosecution. When Biondello arrived (the former pretend wife), they explained the plot and exited, just as Petruchio and Grumio entered from our left and walked up the ramp to visit Petruchio’s old friend Hortensio. Grumio, played by Pearce Quigley, was on the slow side and took Petruchio’s instructions literally, hence the problems. I reckoned he’d spent too much time on the estate and wasn’t as street smart as Tranio. I also felt he hadn’t spent as much time with Petruchio as is usually suggested, which was supported by Hortensio’s tentative reference to him as “your ancient, trusty, pleasant servant”. Grumio struck Petruchio as he stood by the top of the ramp, Petruchio grabbed Grumio by the head and used that to knock at the door, and Hortensio appeared on the balcony to enquire about the noise. As Grumio staggered back towards the front of the stage, Hortensio saw him first, and then Petruchio walked out from under the balcony to be greeted by his friend; I think some of the dialogue was cut here.

There was the usual laugh when Hortensio described Katherine, pausing before mentioning “her only fault”. Gremio turned up with Lucentio in disguise, and then Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, arrived. As Tranio, he had an Irish accent but talked as posh as he could while pretending to be a gentleman. He was also wearing a wig, and while he wasn’t as ludicrous as some we’ve seen, he was sufficiently inappropriate to be funny. When challenged about his purpose in going to Baptista Minola’s he drew his sword on Gremio, who drew a sword out of this walking stick in response. When Hortensio joined in the questioning, Tranio turned the sword on him, and Petruchio supplied Hortensio with a weapon. With two swords to his one, Tranio soon became reasonable, and joined the confederacy willingly enough. Also, when Gremio declared himself a suitor to Bianca, Grumio snorted with laughter, a reasonable response in the circumstances as Michael Bertenshaw was playing Gremio with a serious stoop.

As they left, Bianca stumbled onto the stage, blindfolded and with her hands tied together. She tried a few steps, but didn’t get very far, and then Kate arrived, brandishing a bullwhip. She cracked it a number of times and Bianca was scared at first, but then she rallied and began to fight back. When her hands were untied, they really started brawling, rolling on the stage as they fought, but then Bianca saw their father coming along and fell back, sobbing. The cow! We weren’t impressed, and there was a lot of sympathy for Kate in this scene, but not from her father and certainly not from Bianca, who made all the usual rude gestures at Kate behind her father’s back, including biting her thumb (see Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 1).

The procession of visitors was funny, with Hortensio disguised by a beard, glasses and a pillbox hat, and Biondello carrying a huge stack of books which he could only just manage (and he’s a tall chap). Petruchio’s question to Baptista “have you not a daughter call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?” got more of a laugh on the question rather than Baptista’s stunned response, and the introduction of ‘Licio’ was quite funny too; I wasn’t sure if Petruchio had agreed the fake name with Hortensio beforehand or not. Everyone else left the stage to Petruchio and Baptista for the dowry discussion, and there was one bit of screaming and thumping before Hortensio reappeared, hat askew. The lute wasn’t wrapped round him this time, but a broken instrument was thrown out onto the stage a few moments later, accompanied by another snarling sound, so that we could see what he was describing. He looked pretty unhappy at his treatment, and for once I was aware that he was a gentleman, not used to acting like a servant and certainly not used to this sort of treatment, as he usually stayed well out of Kate’s reach. This incident got across what an unpleasant woman Kate is at this point, treating servants like punch bags.

Hortensio cheered up a lot when Baptista suggested he work with Bianca, and from dragging himself round the stage, he fairly skipped off to do Baptista’s bidding. Baptista was clearly keen for Petruchio to meet Kate out of doors – less damage to the household goods – and Petruchio readily agreed. When Kate arrived, and he turned to see her, their first look was clearly one of mutual attraction; he was stunned that she was so beautiful, and she was surprised to see someone she liked the look of. They both recovered enough to start their wrangling, and there was a fair bit of physical sparring as well. It all happened so fast that I can’t remember it all, but it included Petruchio holding her at arm’s length while she tried to hit him, and a game of chase round the pit, where Kate pretended to punch some of the audience members. Petruchio tripped her up as she came back up the stairs, hence the reference to her limp. When the others came back, I think they were sitting side by side on the stage, with her skirt partly over Petruchio’s legs (but I may be wrong). Kate was shocked and unhappy to overhear Petruchio’s excuse to the rest that she would “still be curst in company”.

The bidding for Bianca was enjoyable enough, and I realised that although the details Gremio is giving seem strange to us now, the value of these objects in those days would be much greater than we appreciate in our mass production culture. Earlier, Gremio tells Cambio that he will have some books of love “very fairly bound”, and from recent documentaries we’ve learned just how expensive such things were, so presumably the other items were worth mentioning as well. Tranio really enjoyed trumping Gremio at every turn, and we were sorry for poor Gremio when he could offer no more.

The wooing scene between Licio, Cambio and Bianca was good fun, with Bianca starting to assert herself more without actually appearing shrewish herself. She and Cambio sat on a bench to begin with, but moved forward to the ramp as their discussion progressed. During the music lesson, Licio strummed his lute after Bianca read each line of the gamut, which was funny.

The wedding scene was very good fun. We felt sorry for Kate in her predicament, and Biondello’s speech about Petruchio and his horse went down very well. He had the decency to rush through the long litany of the horse’s complaints, as none of us would have known what they were anyway. The comments ascribed to Tranio in my text were actually said by Licio, which made more sense with Hortensio being an old friend of Petruchio’s. Petruchio’s arrival confirmed the description of him; one boot was hanging off, his clothes were extremely tatty, and his horse was actually Grumio, with a bit between his teeth and a pair of coconut shells to make the hoof beats. Petruchio had a carrot dangling somewhere, which he fed to Grumio, and when he was asked to doff his clothes, he did. Off came the jerkin, off came the shirt, and off came the trousers as well. Fortunately he kept his well-padded posing pouch on “else we had been all shamed”.

Hortensio offered to supply alternative clothes; Simon Paisley Day (Petruchio) is a good bit taller than Rick Warden (Hortensio), and they put in some good business whereby Petruchio held his hand up at his own height and waved it over Hortensio’s head to indicate that the offer just wasn’t going to work. From our angle, we were aware that Petruchio’s cheeks were on show, but when he turned to go into the church there was a huge roar from the crowd. I didn’t hear all the lines between Lucentio and Tranio, but Gremio soon joined them, and his description of the wedding ceremony was as clear as I’ve heard before.

When the wedding party re-entered, I had the impression that Petruchio was figuring out his tactics as he went along. His initial declaration that Kate was his property was not well received by the audience, but he took his time between his descriptions of her, and when he said “my barn” the whole speech took on a surreal air; even Kate was a bit perplexed by the description. After that, we could see the humour of it, and there was even some applause as he and Grumio clip-clopped off to the sound of the coconut shells with Kate slung over Petruchio’s shoulder. The rest of the characters had obviously enjoyed the spectacle, and as they left the stage for the wedding feast, Biondello was at the back of the group and gestured for the rest of us to go and get our own refreshments during the interval. Almost forgot – the priest was leaning on Baptista during this part, after the battering he’d taken during the ceremony.

The second half opened at Petruchio’s place. Some of the cast brought out a long table, some plates, etc., and a large tablecloth. They never actually put the cloth on the table, mind you, though it went just about everywhere else – wrapped around one chap as a skirt, held up as a bed sheet and the like. They sang an older version of The Cuckoo’s Nest – not one we’d heard before – and it was a good warm-up for the audience. There were two chairs, one at either end of the table, with antler-shapes on the arms and across the back. With these and the deer’s head, the setting of an old-fashioned country house was well established.

Grumio arrived with the coconut shells, and after telling us how cold he was, called for Curtis. For once there was no great fuss about getting the work done; as Curtis kept reassuring him, everything was ready. For the fire, Curtis referred to a lit candle on the table – not much use I would have thought – but the fun was in Grumio’s telling of the story to bring us up-to-date which came across better than usual. The other servants arrived when called, eventually, and again the impression I had was of slower-witted country folk, similar to the servants in She Stoops To Conquer.

Petruchio and Kate arrived, and she was definitely bedraggled. He didn’t look much different, but then he was dressed so badly for the wedding who would have noticed? The water was spilled over Kate this time, due to Petruchio tipping up the table at the other end, and I noticed how Kate was becoming much more aware of other people’s suffering. When the meat arrived the servants loaded up the plates, but each servant who held Kate’s plate was distracted by Petruchio’s next instruction. Kate was at the far end of the table when she finally had a plate in front of her, and then came the grace, which took an age. The meat soon went flying, and the large joint was tossed between the servants, too hot for anyone to hold for long. Meanwhile Kate dashed between them, trying to get some meat for herself, a classic game of pig-in-the-middle.

Once they left, the servants cleared the food (there were lots of sausage rolls and bits of carrot all over the place), while Curtis snuck up the stairs to report on events in the bed chamber. We could hear ‘yes, yes, yes, YES’ from Kate, followed by ‘no, no’ from Petruchio. When he came out onto the balcony, he began his speech up there, but came down to the stage pretty quickly. No one responded when he asked for other ideas, not surprisingly. This can be a difficult speech, but this time I was aware that he was showing Kate her own behaviour, and giving her a chance to break free of her habit of scolding everyone. She was already well on the way, so Petruchio didn’t seem unkind or nasty in doing this; instead he seemed to be the only person who could help such a damaged woman.

Tranio and Hortensio entered for the next scene, both in disguise, while Bianca and Lucentio were up on the balcony. They indulged in some kissing, and then slid down below the railing. Various items of clothing were thrown over the rail to the stage below, while Hortensio revealed himself to Tranio by taking off his hat and pulling his beard up to rest on top of his head – very funny. Lucentio and Bianca reappeared on the balcony, still snogging, and finally Hortensio left in disgust. Tranio gave the couple the good news – they came down to join him on the stage – and then Biondello turned up with the sighting of a likely prospect to play Vincentio.

When the pedant arrived, he was more smartly dressed than most. Tranio and Biondello stood in his way at the top of the ramp, and although he got past them eventually, they soon had him hooked with their fake story. The table came back on with the chairs, and then Grumio tormented Kate with all the food she couldn’t have. He kept getting up to go to the kitchen for the food, then realising it might be “too choleric” and sitting down again. The final time he didn’t even move from the table before deciding against the food in question.

Petruchio came on with a whole roast chicken on a platter. He put it fairly central on the table, so it was just out of Kate’s reach when she lunged for it. He moved it even further off, then took it away altogether as she crawled along the table to get at it. She was kneeling on the table when he insisted on being thanked for his effort, and the expressions on her face were priceless; it cost her dear to thank him, but she managed to get a rather sulky “I thank you, sir” out after several attempts. With her sitting at the middle of the table now, and Hortensio at the end, Petruchio kept her distracted for a short time while Hortensio shoved most of the chicken in his napkin and wolfed down the rest.

The table was removed quickly to leave room for the tailor and his goods. Grumio was the model for the dress this time; I couldn’t see the ripping of the sleeve as he was behind the pillar, but the overall effect was clear. The tailor left with the remains of the dress, and Kate was lying on the stage, eyes closed as if asleep. Petruchio noted this and tested her with his reference to the time. Ever alert for a quarrel, she opened her eyes and put him straight, but to no avail.

The scene where Tranio introduced the pedant to Baptista was very funny, with the pedant having difficulty remembering his lines and being prompted by Tranio, Lucentio and Biondello behind Baptista’s back. With Baptista satisfied, and the rest heading off to continue their business privately, Biondello had the usual amount of trouble getting Lucentio to take the hint – Bianca, church, parson; how difficult is it?

Petruchio, Hortensio, Grumio, Kate and two or three other servants came trekking on to the stage, singing a farming list song. They’d obviously been singing it for some time on their journey, as it had quite a few animals on the list already – cow, sheep, etc. As they went up the steps below us, Kate was clinging on to people in the audience, and for her turn she came up with ‘pig’. They had some trouble getting the right pig noise out of her, and then Petruchio started on his moonshine nonsense. The servants who were ahead of them had reached the far steps and stopped for a rest; when Petruchio decided to return to his house, one of them came back while the other actually kept going! Don’t know what happened there. Finally Kate decided to stop arguing, and went along with whatever Petruchio said.

The real Vincentio came along, and Kate began to enjoy herself. She checked with Petruchio that it was indeed the sun that had bedazzled her eyes, and Vincentio joined in nicely by addressing Kate as “Fair sir” and Petruchio as “my merry mistress”, which was taken in good part. I did spot the plot discrepancy in this scene, when Petruchio tells Vincentio that his son is to be married to Kate’s sister and Hortensio confirms it – hasn’t he just agreed with ‘Lucentio’ that they will both shun Bianca? But perhaps a message reached them that we’re unaware of, and Hortensio has got over ‘Lucentio’s’ apparent betrayal of their agreement. (Shows how clearly the story was being told, mind you.)

Their arrival at ‘Lucentio’s’ lodgings was good fun, and although I missed some of it behind the pillars, I got the gist. The pretend Vincentio was wonderfully drunk as he leaned over the parapet to inform the real Vincentio that ‘Lucentio’ needed no money from a stranger, as long as his ‘father’ was here. The reactions of Biondello and Tranio were very enjoyable, and Petruchio and Kate withdrew to the bottom of the ramp to watch the fun. The revelations concluded, off they trooped to the feast, except Kate, Petruchio and Grumio. When Kate finally agreed to the kiss, she and Petruchio were about to indulge themselves on the top of the ramp when they noticed Grumio peering at them. They waved him away, and he slunk off to the stairs near us, where he craftily took a mirror out of his pouch, polished it and used it to check up on the loving couple, who by now were well into a serious snog. The audience responded warmly, both to the kiss and to Grumio’s sneaky trick with the mirror. Kate and Petruchio paused for breath (eventually) and left for the feast themselves.

The servants took a few moments to set up the stage with chairs, cushions and chandeliers, and for the first time I was aware that this is Lucentio’s apartments we’re visiting; it’s usually shown as Baptista’s place. One of the servants sat on one of the chairs and it broke! They brought a replacement, so all was well, and with the cast changed into their posh frocks, the final scene began. Kate and Petruchio lounged on cushions near the front of the stage, Hortensio’s widow was on a chair on the far side, while Bianca and Lucentio, as far as I can remember, were on the cushions on the far side. The banter was well done, and the ladies withdrew up the stairs and through the curtain. When the bet was proposed, the servants cleared the chairs and cushions but put a table in the middle of the stage for the money (and drinks). Biondello went through the curtains for the first summons, and while they waited for him they did the speeding-up clapping. He reappeared on the balcony, Bianca-less, and was sent back again for the widow. Again the clapping, again no widow. For Kate’s summoning, the men took no interest, thinking she wouldn’t come, but she was through those curtains like a shot. She held a brief pause, for the men to realise she’d actually turned up, before asking “What is your will, sir, that you send for me?” I always think that Kate must realise there’s something going on – the widow has spotted the same thing – and she’s probably prepared for the call before it arrives. The men were suitably amazed.

She brought the other women out, and we were at the last hurdle. Kate went into the speech promptly this time, and her delivery suggested a woman who was now at ease with herself and the overt position she has in society. She wasn’t downtrodden, she had simply broken free from her old ways of thinking, and her statement of wifely duty was quite straightforward. When she mentioned a husband being “thy lord, thy life” etc., she was looking at the widow, and Hortensio, who was standing beside his new wife, looked a little sheepish at first but then straightened himself up, as if remembering that he was supposed to be all the things that Kate was saying. And although it wasn’t emphasised as such, I noticed that Kate recommends obedience to “his honest will”, implying that there’s no duty to obey a husband’s every whim, but only those directions that are reasonable. Of course, it’s not so easy to handle the comments about women being all soft and cuddly and unsuited to toil when most of us have to go out and work nowadays, nor do those lines apply to the working women of Shakespeare’s time, but the use of Elizabethan costumes did at least allow us to shift perspective at this point and see those lines as part of that culture rather than ours.

The final act, putting her hand on the ground for Petruchio to stand on, was done with great loving, and I sensed an anxiety in the audience (including me) as to what Petruchio would do. He walked over to her slowly, and as he stepped in front of her he knelt down, took her hand up and kissed it, then embraced her with the line “ Why, there’s a wench!” It was a lovely moment, and suggested they would have a happy life together. With no need to go back to the Sly subplot, they could now go into the dance, and we clapped along, very happy with our afternoon. I left the theatre feeling elated, not something that usually happens with this play, and I would happily recommend this production to anyone.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Kiss Me Kate – June 2012

Experience: 8/10

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Trevor Nunn

CFT and Old Vic co-production

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 22nd June 2012

If there’s one thing that Chichester are doing really well at the moment, it’s musicals. This is another gem, and given that this was only the 4th performance and it’s likely to improve, get your tickets now because they’ll soon be sold out.

We didn’t have the best angle to watch from tonight. Our seats were right of centre, normally an excellent position, but the set was slanted across the stage to the left, so we felt we were sitting much further round to the side. God knows what the people actually sitting round that way saw! The set was fabulous all the same. It combined the backstage area, the stage itself and a small area outside the stage door, all in the one set. The proscenium arch was placed across the stage facing diagonally left. For the scenes on stage there was a backdrop with a small exit on the right hand side, while cloth drapes, boxes and chairs completed the onstage set. At right angles to the proscenium arch were a couple of boxes, fortunately not blocking anyone’s view on that side. For backstage scenes, the backdrop was raised and we could see the open area with brickwork and doors, or the dressing rooms would be turned round so we could see those scenes. On the far right were the stage door and a small strip of stage down to the stairs which served as the outside world. Lighting changes emphasised one area or the other, and with dancing and one or two songs covering the scene changes, they kept some momentum going. Even so, the changes were a bit clunky, but they’ll improve for practice.

To set up a location in the musical-within-a-musical, they brought on, amongst other things, a box which they placed in the middle of the stage. A spotlight picked it out – this didn’t always happen tonight, but I assume it was intended – a white-gloved hand would open the box with a flourish, and then take out a strand of cloth to start the process. Others would come in to help attach the corners of the cloth set, and then it would be lifted up to give a wall and door (Petruchio’s place), an overhanging cloth (Padua) and a lovely cloth tree, with the patterns of leaves printed on the cloth as well as scalloped strips of cloth arranged all round it. They will find it easier in time, but tonight these sections were a bit too messy and held the energy back a little.

The costumes were lovely, and in period for the 1948 sections. The Elizabethan look was cunningly woven into the m-w-a-m costumes, though they wouldn’t pass muster at the Globe. The band was above and behind, as usual, and the set completely obscured them this time, but they were a strong presence, naturally. The dancing was fine – the opening number of the second half was about fifteen minutes long! – but the singing and dialogue need to be clearer; I lost a lot of Cole Porter’s witty lyrics, but again this will come on in time.

There isn’t an overture for this show, at least not in the usual style. The chorus sings the opening number, Another Op’nin’, Another Show, adding snippets of later songs, and taking practice runs at the choreography. It was a lively start, and the following scene, with Fred Graham giving some pre-opening notes and taking them through their bows, was good fun. The pre-show scenes continued to fill in the relationships. Lois and Bill (Bianca and Lucentio) are an item, but he gambles (and she’s susceptible to expensive presents, as we discovered later – not that it came as a surprise). Fred and Lilli are always sniping at each other, but she loves him deeply, despite having an ongoing relationship with a mystery man. When she was brought some flowers which were clearly a gift from Fred, as they were the same as the flowers she had in her wedding bouquet, she softened towards him; unfortunately he had intended the flowers for Lois, and although he tried to get back the note he had written for them, Lilli slipped it down her bodice as a good luck token, planning to read it later.

The first m-w-a-m scene, We Opened In Venice, involved the cast moving a load of boxes around the stage on a trolley (I assume). It was messy and lacked sparkle, but didn’t become too boring. Then they did the first set-in-a-box process, and it worked OK. Allowing for massive changes to the original, we then saw some of the opening scenes, with Baptista, Gremio, Hortensio, Lucentio, Bianca and Kate going through a sizeable chunk of Act 1 scene 1 (no Grumio or Tranio in this version), and with Lucentio making himself known to Baptista as a suitor for Bianca.

Bianca then made her feelings clear about her various suitors, and seemed to be happy to marry anyone, anyone at all, in Tom, Dick Or Harry, although there was a definite emphasis on ‘Dick’. At one point a suitor, Gremio I think, tore some cloth off Bianca’s skirt, leaving her with a leg-revealing gap. It looked odd, though presumably it would be easier to dance in, and it’s not unknown for musicals to show off the eye candy to best advantage. Fortunately that extended to the tight tights worn by the fit young men who leapt about the stage, definitely a treat for us ladies.

Petruchio arrived as the suitors were arguing about Lucentio, and broke up their quarrel. He was Lucentio’s friend this time, which meant poor Hortensio had very little to do. He sang I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua well enough, but the staging hasn’t stuck in my mind. I forget the exact order of events now, but Petruchio was introduced to Baptista, they left to have a drink, and at some point Kate and Bianca did a brief version of their argument, with Baptista breaking it up very quickly – this may have happened earlier.

With Kate left alone on stage, she used the table, chairs and drinking cups left behind as ammunition for I Hate Men. As Baptista and Petruchio came back on stage for the preamble to the wooing scene, Lilli went off stage, happily opening the note she had kept down her dress. This was where things started to go so very wrong. Having promised never to call Fred a bastard again, Lilli broke that promise a few moments later; we heard her from backstage. Baptista and Petruchio both looked alarmed, and then Kate came back out for the wooing scene, loaded for bear. She didn’t hold back on the pretend slaps, and with the scene being played almost in full, there were plenty of opportunities for her to inflict damage on the ‘bastard’. Finally he’d had enough, and after threatening her with a spanking, he actually carried it out, right there on the stage. The next song, Kiss Me, Kate, had her refusing to do any such thing, and so to the interval.

The second half started with Too Darned Hot, a number that didn’t advance the story but certainly got the energy up again after the break. Paul, Fred’s dresser, was the lead singer and dancer, and he did a splendid job, while the dancing was not only good, it went on for a long while. Hattie, Lilli’s dresser, also added some humour. She was sitting by the front of the stage, sewing something, and when Paul tried to get close to her, she made  several pointed comments, such as “you see this needle”, which did the trick  and kept him away. She also joined in the dance, briefly; singing was her forte.

With Lilli/Kate nursing a sore behind, the next scene was at Petruchio’s house. He nicked the cushion that someone brought on for her, took away what little food she managed to get her hands on – Lilli had been asking for a sandwich since before the show – and had a cloth door slammed in his face when Kate stormed off into their bedroom. His song, Where Is The Life That Late I Led?, was good fun, although I didn’t catch all the lines, and he used the full width of the stage to get us all involved.

Lilli’s mystery man, General Harrison Howell, arrived to take Lilli away – I’ll get to that part later – and after expressing his chauvinistic attitudes to Fred, he was recognised by Lois. She had featured strongly in the General’s R&R during the war, although she didn’t remember much of the ‘rest’ part. With Bill overhearing some of her conversation with General she had to explain herself to him, hence the number Always True To You In My Fashion, which they did very well.

Lilli’s attempt to leave the theatre had been scotched earlier, and since Fred had persuaded the General that Lilli’s request was just a whim, Howell wasn’t too supportive of her as they talked in her dressing room. He wouldn’t call the FBI, he wouldn’t let her eat after 21:00 hours, and fancy French hats would clearly be a thing of the past for the wife of the next Vice president of the United States of America! (No chance of that – he’d picked Dewey.) Despite this, they sang a sickeningly smoochy version of From This Moment On, a song inserted in the 1999 Broadway revival.

While Lilli dressed to leave, the rest of the cast entertained us with Lucentio’s love poem to his adored, Bianca. It has gloriously rubbish lyrics, but the tap dancing and singing were good, and as tap is my favourite I enjoyed this number the most. Lilli left via the stage door, and with Howell being so precise and demanding I was aware that this was a completely unsuitable match for her. Fred went back in for the end of the show, and then came the bit we’d all been waiting for.

To go back a little: Bill’s gambling was not successful, and he’d signed an IOU for $10,000 using Fred’s’ name. The gentleman holding the IOU, Mr Hogan, sent round two of his employees, known to us as First Man and Second Man, to collect on the debt. At first Fred denied all knowledge of the debt, claiming it wasn’t even his signature – they all say that – but when Lilli was planning to leave, he saw an opportunity. While acknowledging the IOU, he explained that he couldn’t pay it back till the end of the week, and with Lilli leaving, the show would fold immediately. The two gentlemen, well read in matters Shakespearean, were unhappy about Lilli’s career choice, and made their displeasure known by means of waving their guns around. Until her General arrived, there was nothing Lilli could do but soldier on, with two preposterously dressed minders watching her every move. Their spats didn’t really go with the Elizabethan style of their tabards, and First Man’s sunglasses simply had to be removed.

During the second half, these two men were checking in with Mr Hogan when they learned of a change of management. Mr Hogan’s debts of honour died with the man, so Fred was in the clear and the two men could leave, after changing out of their costumes of course. As they made their way out of the theatre, they found themselves in front of the curtain, facing the audience. Unsure of what to do, they whispered for a bit then launched into the impromptu (but wasn’t it lucky the band had the music ready) Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It went pretty well, though again it should improve with some more performances.

That done, and despite Fred telling someone to get Lilli’s understudy ready to play Kate, there was an empty seat for the final scene. The tree had been set up well enough – they are fiddly, those cloth sets – and the cast had an air of dejection, while Fred was deeply unhappy. With no Kate to supply her lines, and no widow for Hortensio (poor man), Bianca left the stage on her own and the men fell to arguing about the relative merits of the two wives. Lucentio sent for Bianca by one of the women who were in attendance; she didn’t turn up, natch. After Petruchio sent for Kate, there was a long pause, after which Bianca crept back on at the side of the stage and shook her head. Fred sat on a chair, head in hands, and the rest of the cast didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. Then Kate came on from the back, in full costume, and walked to the front of the stage, with the rest of the cast reacting to her arrival. When she spoke her line “What is your will, sir, that you send for me?”, Petruchio leapt to his feet (pause while I blow my nose, sniffle, sniffle) and was overjoyed to see her. It felt absolutely right that she’d come back, and her song I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple was more a declaration of love for him than an expression of the sentiments in the lyrics. They finished with a rousing version of Kiss Me, Kate, and this time they did kiss, long and hard.

This was great fun, and despite the rough patches it looks set to be a winner. The cast are all excellent. Hannah Waddingham (Lilli/Kate) has an amazingly powerful voice, even allowing for the mike. She has the looks and the figure to be a 1950s star, and can also do the comedy and the anger. Alex Bourne matched her very well as Fred/Petruchio, with enough charm to offset both of his characters’ arrogance (just) and a strong voice. Holly Dale Spencer’s Lois/Bianca combo was very good, although it took me a while to get used to her facial expressions when she was dancing. She showed Lois’s chorus line background by always standing with one leg in front of the other, foot resting on the toes, and she sang and danced really well. Adam Garcia was another good match as Bill/Lucentio, although I felt his part wasn’t as clearly defined as the other three. Still, he sings and dances well, and isn’t hard to look at. David Burt and Clive Rowe made a good start as the two gangsters, and there’s more to come there too, while Wendy Mae Brown (Hattie) and Jason Pennycooke (Paul) gave excellent cameos in their small but entertaining parts, probably the best defined characters at this time.

Of the rest I particularly liked Paul Grunert who played Baptista; his looks of concern when things started to go wrong added to the fun, along with his attempts to get things back on track by repeating his lines. [From the post-show on 9thAug he has trouble remembering the exact lines anyway…]  The whole ensemble looked good, though, and with practice this show should come on tremendously. We’ve already booked.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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

The Taming Of The Shrew – January 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 26th January 2012

For an early performance, this wasn’t bad. We were right round the side in Row D, so although we inevitably missed some things, we did get a reasonable idea of the whole production, and as we’re seeing it again soon we can hopefully catch up on what we missed. And given that it’s early in the run and they’ve had to adjust to an accident which has meant recasting one of the actresses, they may well come on quite a bit for an extra couple of weeks.

We went to the director’s talk on Tuesday, so we were aware that the overall production concept was the marital bed. From a talk earlier today by Michael Dobson and Nicola Watson we learned that a previous experience of watching Henry V had been incorporated into this production by means of a brown cloth area. So it was that we were confronted by a massive hump of mattress and brown cover, raising the level of the RST stage enough so that we couldn’t see the faces of the people across from us. What this was like for the people in Row A I’ve no idea; I do know that one woman asked to move further back because she couldn’t see, and she had started in row B! (They found her another seat, bless ‘em.)

The back of the stage was covered by a curtain in some nondescript brownish colour. From this, a lumpy ramp (pillows) led down to the stage floor. The cast had some difficulty travelling down this ramp at times; although it wasn’t nearly as steep as the Heart of Robin Hood ramp, it was still difficult enough to suggest why a broken ankle had happened so early in the run. When the curtains were drawn back, we could see wooden panels behind them, which turned out to be multi-faceted doors – they could open wide top to bottom or smaller panels within them could be opened as needed. There was also a space behind these in which several of the cast waited to appear for various scenes. I noticed the servant types early on, but I’ve no idea if we could see them because of our acute angle or if they were visible from the front. Time will tell.

The time period for this production was post WWII in Italy, a setting which allowed for the sort of attitudes towards women which would fit with the play, and yet be contemporary enough for an audience to relate to. We had also learned from the director’s talk that the induction would feature prominently in this production, and it did. There was music and a rumpus behind the curtain, and then Christopher Sly was thrown out of the pub, rolling down the slope to land on the stage. I didn’t follow much of the dialogue for this bit, and I was a bit worried that I might not hear enough of the lines to enjoy myself, but it turned out to be only a short spell at the start, thank goodness. Sly ended up near the front of the stage, asleep or comatose, and then the bar staff and customers turned into dogs and started having a go at Sly’s body. Fortunately the huntsmen turned up in time and called them off, and the Lord also arrived, fresh from some hunting. I recall some discussion of the relative merits of a couple of hounds, and then the Lord spotted the sleeping Sly. As he came up with his plan to give Sly a fantasy makeover, I found myself thinking that this play has a strong theme of people learning their place, both in terms of gender and class. I also reckoned that Will might have been saying to those that would listen that the only things differentiating a lord from the common people were his clothes and the way people treated him.

There were plenty of servants in this production, but even so they could hardly move Sly, who was stoutly built. They did manage to get his outer clothes off, and despite his existing smell, and the additional burden of a loud fart, they had him snug in bed in no time in a corner of the stage. We had a few laughs during this part, especially when one servant waved his smoking censer in the vicinity of the bed after the fart.

The plans for the masquerade were pretty long-winded, but we got the gist. Bartholomew, the servant who was to play Sly’s ‘Lady’ had been sent off with the players, and was back again sorting out the curtains when he was taken away to become a woman. Meantime everyone else was fawning over Sly, and doing their best to convince him he was indeed a lord. When he asked if he had ever spoken in the fifteen years he had been out of his wits, only one man answered, and everyone looked at him; he was really on the spot. He got out of it well, though, and after this Sly seemed to be convinced that they were telling the truth. Then his ‘Lady’ arrived, and she looked very fetching indeed. She wasn’t too happy when the rest left him alone with Sly on his command, and despite several attempts to get out of the room, she eventually had to reason her way out of it.

There was plenty of crudity in this production, and here it took the form of Sly masturbating when he found he couldn’t have sex with his ‘wife’; I don’t mind it as such, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary to make the point. Anyway, Sly and his wife settled down in one of the front corners to watch the players, pulling the bedspread over them. I did wonder how good the view would be for anyone over that way; it might be us next time.

With the play proper starting, the doors at the back opened up and for the first time we saw sunshine. Lucentio was a bookish sort, definitely wet behind the ears, while Tranio was OK but not as well defined as some I’ve seen. When they stood to one side it was because of the music; a brass band heralded the arrival of Baptista Minola and his daughters, while I had already noticed Gremio lurking around the doors at the back.

The music and procession went on for some time, and when we finally saw Kate I realised that she had been taken round the streets in a scold’s fiddle – a fiddle-shaped form of the stocks which went round a person’s neck and held the wrists in two other holes to one side; a nasty implement for publicly humiliating someone who didn’t conform to society’s norms. This was quite a shocking image to deal with early on, and I felt the comic tone of the rest of the scene jarred slightly with this entrance. Once out of the ‘fiddle’ though, Kate soon took her revenge, and there were few characters left on stage who didn’t feel the force of her anger. The reason for the ‘fiddle’ was also evident; one poor chap had been walking behind her with his face bandaged up, clearly one of her previous victims. And also a current one, as she got in a good swipe at him again.

Bianca was slightly taller than Kate, and looked all demure and innocent, but we women know how these things work and Kate’s comment about sticking a finger in your eye was clearly based on knowledge – Bianca milked the sympathy vote for all it could give. I don’t know if they dropped Lucentio and Tranio’s asides, or if I just didn’t hear them as they were on the other side of a very busy stage. We did get to hear their lines after everyone else had left, and Lucentio was wonderfully silly, skipping around like a new-born lamb with delight at the thought of his love. Tranio was more practical, as ever, and fortunately they were a similar size, so swapping clothes wasn’t a problem. Sadly, they left it at the jackets and hats tonight – no trousers were removed.

After a comment or two from Sly the play continued with Petruchio’s arrival. At the talk this morning, Michael Dobson had passed on a comment from one of his daughters that if David Caves took his shirt off, he’d do fine as Petruchio. He did take his shirt off later as it happened, but I think it only fair to point out that even before that action sealed his performance, he was already doing pretty well fully dressed. The doors at the back had been closed, and during the fight with Grumio, Petruchio battered at it with Grumio’s head (Simon Gregor used his forearm to thump the door – one of the advantages of the side view). The Ulster accents of both men worked very well; they not only indicated they were relative outsiders to this community, but a sense of wildness and unpredictability came with it which suited the characters down to the ground. Petruchio certainly seemed wild, and definitely only interested in money at this stage, but would that change?

A nice touch with Hortensio was to have him a bit phobic about bodily fluids. When Petruchio spat on his hand before they shook on their deal, Hortensio took it willingly enough but wiped his hand immediately afterwards, and also put his handkerchief on the ground before he sat beside Petruchio on the ramp. He also put in a lovely pause after “Her only fault” when describing Kate; we filled in the gap and obligingly laughed. The gathering of the suitors was good fun too, and soon they were off a-wooing.

For the next scene, Kate came through the doors first, smoking. No sign of Bianca. She did turn up, though, bound hand and foot, and with something in her mouth. She had to hop through the door, and roll down the ramp before spitting out the gag and getting into the fight with her sister. They went at it pretty hard, and Baptista had to break things up before Kate smothered Bianca with a pillow. Of course Bianca did her victim number again – bitch – but she showed her true nature with lots of rude gestures at Kate behind their father’s back.

With the girls off stage the suitors turned up, and this was another entertaining run through the various characters, many of whom were in disguise. I always love the way Baptista responds to Petruchio’s first question – “Pray, have you not a daughter call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?” with “I have a daughter, sir, call’d Katherina”. This was as good as usual, and as Steve pointed out, it’s just the sort of thing comedy writers are doing nowadays.

The tutors were presented, and Baptista gave the books to the musician and the lyre to the academic. They exchanged the gifts when they left the stage to go to Baptista’s daughters, and soon we heard the sound of a lute, played not very well, coming from behind the doors. We also heard the sound of the lute being broken over Hortensio’s head, and he re-emerged shortly afterwards to show us the damage. This whetted Petruchio’s appetite, and he was really keen to meet this woman who might actually be worth his while. I wasn’t sure about Baptista’s reactions to some of this part as he had his back to us for most of it, so I’m hoping to get a better view of that next time.

Kate came through the doors and kept herself aloof beside them, smoking again and with a hip flask. I got the impression that Petruchio was taken with her on first sight, whether by her looks or her attitude I couldn’t tell. They were soon sparring verbally, although Kate took a long pause before one of her early responses, and there were plenty of sexual references in the physical actions accompanying their joust. Petruchio mirrored Kate’s actions whenever she threw a tantrum, like banging on the doors, and this made her stop what she was doing; it was clearly the first time she’d met someone who wasn’t frightened or put off by her behaviour. Although he threatened to hit her if she struck him again, he didn’t beat her up, just had a fun time wrestling with her. She seemed to realise pretty quickly that she couldn’t get the better of him physically – he was a good deal taller than her – so she stuck to words, and even there he kept going past her ability to respond. She did seem to find his body attractive as well, so I was aware that they were potentially well matched, which made the dialogue easier to accept.

There was another unpleasant moment during this confrontation, when Kate, on the left walkway, lifted up her skirt and apparently peed on the floor. Of course it was faked, and there was a bit of a delay as the contraption didn’t work at first; it’s another thing I don’t mind but which didn’t actually help the production. Those nearby who were splashed weren’t so happy, though.

The financial fisticuffs between Gremio and Tranio-as-Lucentio was amusing, though I found myself remembering the wonderful Generation Game conveyor belt scene from our first Taming many years ago. (Just taken a quick break to review the cast at http://calm.shakespeare.org.uk/dserve/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Performance&dsqSearch=PerfCode==’TAM198304’&dsqCmd=Show.tcl – great fun!) The competition between the tutors was also entertaining, and although she wasn’t entirely convinced, Bianca was clearly favouring Cambio over Licio. There were two chairs on stage at this point, and each tutor kept pulling one of them away so the other chap fell down, which was more amusing than it sounds. Cambio in particular got himself into all sorts of contorted positions while he was ‘construing’ with Bianca, while Licio sang each line of his ‘gamut’ after Bianca read it out – very funny.

The wedding itself was pretty lively. We were given the full text, as far as I could tell, so Biondello had his chance to romp through the almost unintelligible speech about Petruchio and his nag – he did this very well, using postures to illustrate the descriptions. Petruchio and Grumio looked like they’d come straight from a particularly bawdy stag do – Petruchio had ‘Petruchio and Kate’ written on his chest in big black letters, while Grumio had ‘Grumio’ on his. They were scantily clad in what might loosely be called trousers, with greenery attached at strategic points and a large salami down Grumio’s trousers; this became his ‘weapon’ later. Kate was wearing a simple white tailored dress, while Bianca was in a pink ensemble. It took some effort for Kate to actually utter the word ’entreat’, but she managed it, and still she ended up being wrapped in Petruchio’s coat (or cloak) and carried off. There was a good laugh when she said ‘Father, be quiet’, given that he was behind her at that point.

They took the interval here, which meant that Sly had to get off stage as well. They’d kept him on throughout this first half, and between the early scenes they’d done a bit of under the covers rummaging. At first it was Bartholomew escaping his lord’s clutches, then Marion Hackett appeared for some unknown reason and stole Sly’s underpants. By the time of the interval, he was the only one of the induction scene characters left, and when he realised everyone else had left the stage, he held his vest over his willy and eventually made his way off. I found this stuff mildly amusing, but as they didn’t do much with it in the second half it was rather wasted for me, especially as it disrupted the rhythm of the play. They moved the bedspread around so much during those bits that some cast or crew had to come on and straighten everything out again before the action could continue.

Sly also came on at the start of the second half, on his own, holding a small saucepan over his nether regions. He went off stage at the back beside the pillows, as I recall, but he was hanging around during the next scene for a while, watching the action among the players. There was hardly any Curtis at all with this production – lost in rehearsal, poor chap – and they prepared for the scene by having lots of actors come on and pose themselves on the stage, asleep. The chairs which had been left there were put on their sides with somebody draped over the one nearest us. There were actors lying on the pillows, on the stage and hanging out of the back area, all fast asleep. Grumio woke them up and Petruchio came in soon after, with Kate crawling in after him. Her dress was a bit mucky, and I think she was shoeless, but otherwise she seemed fine. They skipped through this scene pretty quickly and after a short report from Curtis about the non-event in the bedchamber, Petruchio returned to give us a situation report. He waited quite a long time to see if anyone in the audience could suggest another way to achieve the desired result – no response.

The next scene is where Tranio craftily gets Hortensio to swear off Bianca, and although I couldn’t see all the action behind the doors, I got a clear idea of what was going on. Basically, Lucentio and Bianca were pre-empting the marriage vows and going at it, hammer and tongs. They started by kissing, but were soon into rampant sexual intercourse in all sorts of positions, culminating in pleasurable exhaustion when they finally joined Tranio. The activity was revealed by opening various panels in the doors, showing different parts of the lovers as they got it on. Early on, both Tranio and Hortensio were right by the doors, but fortunately the lovers were oblivious; later on it was just Tranio winding Hortensio up by opening yet another panel.

At the end of this scene, Tranio persuaded the travelling pedant to pose as his father, and then we were back in Petruchio’s house, with Kate trying to get hold of some food from Grumio. When Petruchio and Hortensio came on with the dish of meat, Hortensio ended up straddling Kate, who was face down on the stage, and as there was too much to eat he stuffed some items in his pockets to clear the plate.

The argument over the dress was good fun. The dress and hat themselves were very attractive, and the dressmaker arrived with a live model to show off his work. She was rather upset at having her sleeve ripped off, and Kate took the sleeve back off Petruchio and put it back on the model, only for it to be ripped off again, along with the other one and the cape. I think this was the scene where Kate paused the argument, got one of the chairs, put it in front of Petruchio, and stood on it so she could argue with him face to face – excellent fun.

The scene where Baptista met the fake Vincentio and then Biondello explained to Lucentio the basics of elopement, was pretty standard and then we saw Petruchio, Kate and Grumio returning to Padua for a family reunion. Kate finally decided to stop arguing, couldn’t tell why, and then the real Vincentio turned up. Dressed in a very natty suit, and wearing sunglasses, he was also accompanied by a bodyguard who wasn’t keen on letting these strangers anywhere near his boss, especially when they talked so weirdly. Vincentio wasn’t bothered though, and waved him away. After Kate and Petruchio had their fun, and Petruchio spoke to the new arrival to find out who he was, Vincentio joined in the game by addressing Kate as ‘Fair sir’ and Petruchio with ‘and you my merry mistress’. So at least he has a sense of humour; he’ll need it later after Tranio abuses him.

The party was going full swing when they arrived at Padua, and the melee in front of the house was mildly entertaining. Petruchio and Kate stood over at the far side of the stage, so I couldn’t see what they were up to, but I got the impression that they were chatting to each other instead of watching the action.

For the final scene, the rest of the cast entered through the doors, and Kate and Petruchio were a bit behind them. Kate was clearly embarrassed that they were still wearing their soiled clothes, and the other two wives were clearly sneering at her. She went back to the doors and stood along from Petruchio there, having nicked his hat and put it on her head. There was dancing, and Bianca was enjoying herself with Gremio as they did the tango.

The bickering was entertaining enough, with Kate really having a go at the widow over her ‘mean’ comment. Bianca was very lively, and then the women left the stage. The men were more laddish once they’d gone, and the money for the bet was soon on the floor in the middle of the stage. A chair was placed beside the money, and each husband waited on it, expectantly. Biondello gave the bad news to two of them, then Grumio went off for the final message, with Petruchio hoping for a good result. Even he was surprised by Kate’s arrival, and I always reckon this is where he goes a bit over the top because he’s worried she’s no longer got any spirit to her.

When he challenged her to tell the other two wives about their duty, she had to think about it for a while, and everyone else assumed she wasn’t going to do it. She sat on one of the chairs and lit up a cigarette, but just as the rest had given up on her, she started on the speech. I couldn’t decide on her motivation; it wasn’t clear to me why she’d decided to speak up, although the lines themselves were very clear. Her final offer to put her hand beneath Petruchio’s foot was OK, and he seemed to have realised that she was still the Kate he fell in love with. He took her in his arms, and then they were kissing, and rushing to the back of the stage to get their kit off and snuggle under the bedclothes.

The rest of the play was a bit of a blur. I don’t remember how the rest of the cast left the stage, but soon it was bare and in relative darkness. Sly staggered back on and collapsed on the far side of the stage, and from the noise behind the doors he was outside the inn we’d started from. Two characters came on and went over to him; Steve reckoned they were the Lord and Bartholomew, while I wasn’t sure it was the Lord himself. Either way, he left some money on Sly’s chest, while Bartholomew ran back to leave his scarf with Sly. The performance ended with Marion Hackett standing on top of the ramp and looking at Sly, while he held up some of the money and then collapsed back again on the stage.

I wasn’t taken with this ending; it wasn’t clear to me what was going on, and I only realised it was money on Sly’s chest when he held some of it up at the end. Since Lucy Bailey had described the play as the journey to get the two leads into bed, why carry on after that’s been done? And with the Sly subplot petering out during the second half, why go back to it? Maybe we’ll understand it better next time we see it as our angle will be better, although the way this bed set blocks the view, I’m not so sure.

This was a lively retelling of the story with lots of physical humour, some of which worked for me, some of which didn’t. The relationship between Kate and Petruchio was believable, and the rest of the performance was at least watchable with some nice touches. Steve wondered if Kate was actually challenging Petruchio at the end by offering her hand, testing him to see how he would take it. That’s possible, and we’ll both be watching closely next time to see if it becomes clearer.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Taming of the Shrew – June 2008

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Conall Morrison

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 10th June 2008

Fortunately, Steve checked the time of the performance, so we got here for the start. From the look of the stage, we’re getting the full Christopher tonight, and in modern dress. Signs for ‘fully licensed bars’, ‘hotel’ and ‘video exchange’ adorn a tower building at the back of the thrust, to our left. ‘Hotel’ is apparently a euphemism for knocking-shop, and the first signs of action are when a posh bird and Michelle Gomez have a minor altercation over money. Michelle appears to be the ‘hotel’ keeper, one Marion Hackett, and the posh bird is presumably her employer, who insists on getting every last farthing from her employee. After a short wordless exchange, Marion hands over the money she was hoping to keep for herself, and then the rowdies arrive.

It’s the stag do from hell. A bunch of men, of various ages (almost all the men in the cast, from what I could see), indulging in those pointless male activities such as shouting, doing silly dances, waving inflatable dolls about, and mooning the audience. Only they kept their knickers on. How tame. Christopher Sly is almost part of the group – he looks like he’s joining in even though he may not know anyone, you know the type. However, he is the one who accosts the pole dancer, and gets thrown out by the bouncer, and….did Shakespeare really write this stuff?

Well, now the dialogue gets going it’s recognizable as Will’s work. We’ve already had some spicy language from Marion Hackett as she leans out of her window during the stag party, making a mobile phone call that included lines like “not another denarius” and “cunt…ry”. (Must be the bad quarto.) From Sly’s ejection, we’re back with a recognizable plot, and he’s left to snooze off his drunkenness in a cleaner’s cart. Along comes the posh bird with her huntsmen, all East End boys from the sounds of it, and she gets the idea to mess with Sly’s mind. There’s a nice connection here with her being a lady (not sure if it’s an official title or just a description), and also the vice madam. Made her dosh from porn and sleaze, and now she’s gone up in the world (after years of going down, no doubt). It emphasises the topsy-turvy nature of status in the worlds of the play – Sly is down, then up, then down. Let’s not get too philosophical though – the play continues, and by this time I was starting to get into it a lot more.

The trick is set up, with the posh bird arranging things with her servants. I’d noticed one of the actors this afternoon had quite a feminine face, and he’s the one who ends up playing Sly’s ‘wife’. He looked very fetching in an acid green slip and blond wig, so it’s no surprise when Sly wants to make it up to her for all the years she hasn’t had him in her bed. There’s some chasing around that bed before a swift punch fells Sly, and when he wakes up he’s persuaded to hold off on the sex for a bit, as his doctors don’t think it’s a good idea so early in the day. I wasn’t sure this Sly would go along with it, but he does.

While he was being prepared for the next bit, off stage, the actors arrive. It’s done beautifully, with the right hand side of the back flats opening to allow the rear end of a lorry to reverse into the gap, complete with beeping noises. The tail of this lorry has “The Players” emblazoned across it, in the style of the RSC logo, and underneath are the words “comical”, “tragical”, “historical”, “pastoral” (Hamlet, in case you were wondering). At the end, as the lorry takes the actors away, I wondered if the licence plate was also connected in some way. We may never know.

As the ramp is lowered, the actors appear, huddled in the back of the lorry. With several bounds, they were free, and boy did they bound. Mainly the younger actors, it must be said, who pranced around the stage doing their warm-up exercises while the older actors took their time, and the baby-face who becomes Sly’s pseudo-wife listens to his iPod. This bit was entertaining for us, but even more entertaining for a group up in the gallery to our left, who hooted with laughter very loudly at all the antics. I suspect they were friends, family, fellow actors, etc., and I did find it distracting at first, but later I was caught up in the performance and it wasn’t so noticeable. (Steve reckons someone had had a word.)

Having persuaded Sly to forgo sex for the theatre (am I the only one who thinks that’s a fair trade?), the actors trundle on some cute mini Italian style houses, some benches and stools, and the tower in the corner is rotated to show a couple of ornate doors with awnings. The flats at the back are changed behind the tower (the lorry is still backed onto the stage at this point) to show a jumble of Paduan houses, and then Lucentio and Tranio are unleashed to start the ball rolling. Steve spotted that Lucentio had a wrist-sundial, very fetching. He also has an overly dramatic style, but he does get the lines across, while Tranio, common as muck, does his best to support him. Sly and baby-face are watching from the walkway to our right, lying down so as not to get in anyone’s sightline.

The encounters between the Minola family and Bianca’s suitors were fairly straightforward. Michelle Gomez managed to combine truly awful behaviour with a sense that Katherine is right to feel badly treated, or at least to have a regular strop every few minutes, which is a neat trick. It’s easy to see why the men in her vicinity are scared of her. Once they’ve left, and Lucentio and Tranio have swapped jackets (sadly, they rarely opt to do the full monty anymore), it’s time for Petruchio to enter. The lady’s servants bring Sly back centre stage, present him with a paperback of the text, and change his clothes. After a few false starts, Sly hits his stride, and Petruchio appears before us! It was nicely done, especially the change of accent.

If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly became so during the wooing scene that this was going to be a very physical performance. How those two are going to end the run without being black and blue I don’t know. It wasn’t all to my taste, but they did create a lot of humour out of the encounter, and they certainly allowed the darker side full rein too. Grumio had already been well pummelled, so we knew Petruchio had a temper. Now he’s keen to unleash it on Kate. One thing to mention in passing was the comic expressions, particularly the one on Baptista Minola’s face when Petruchio announces he wants to marry Katherine. Joy mixed with incredulity – he just can’t believe his luck.

The story rattled along at a good pace. Petruchio’s outfit for the wedding isn’t as described by Biondello, but it’s pretty gruesome nonetheless, including streaks of blood on his lower half, where he seems to be wearing the remains of a frock. Instead of drawing swords to protect Kate, Grumio produces cutlery, and not the sharp stuff either – spoons? Petruchio carries Kate off, and the rest are happy to let him.

Back at chez Petruchio, the staff are roundly abused, as usual, and there’s certainly a greater sense that they might actually get hit this time. When Petruchio asks for his cousin Ferdinand, so that Kate could greet him with a kiss, I had visions of an ugly, slobbering brute being led on, but Ferdinand is one character we never get to meet. In fact, I think this is the first time I noticed the line.

The knockabout humour continues, with no remarkable pieces of staging that I could see, until the end of the play. The final wedding feast is in modern dress. Kate’s final speech is a bit difficult to figure out. She seems to have been cowed by Petruchio’s treatment, but not as much as I’ve seen before. However, there’s an unpleasant atmosphere when Petruchio gets his own way, and this lasts until the play within the  play is over. Then, the tables are turned, as Sly is returned to harsh reality, and Kate/Marion heads off with the actors to start a new career. As the women change, they treat Sly with contempt, and although there’s no dialogue, this does help to offset the sour taste of the traditional ending. It was as if Sly has been allowed to indulge his fantasy of getting the better of a woman, and they’re making it clear at the end that he has no chance of doing that in real life.

From a quick glance at the program notes, this production is based on commedia dell’arte techniques and themes, hence the physical work and the non-exploration of the psychological areas. There’s some good stuff here, though it’s not my favourite version of the play. Still, it’s nice to see a completely different style of staging, and to expand our understanding of the background in which these plays were written.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Taming Of The Shrew – February 2008

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company SATTF (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory)

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Thursday 28th February 2008

This was our first time at the Tobacco Factory, and our first for seeing this particular theatre group, so we didn’t have too many expectations. The seats were pretty basic; standard folding chairs, but with really comfy cushions, and the auditorium itself was equally basic. There were seats on all sides, and in the middle a partly tiled floor, with pillars at each corner. Apart from a long table and some chairs, that were brought on as needed, that was it. No trapdoors, nobody abseiling down ropes from the low ceiling. Just the actors and the text, which made a refreshing change.

What also made a refreshing change was the detail in the performances, especially the way that the actors were willing to take their time with their lines. Leo Wringer as Petruchio, in particular, left some valuable pauses between some of his lines, giving his character thinking time, and an opportunity not only to show that his character is thinking, but also what he’s thinking. Obviously it meant the pace was slower, but with so much to see and enjoy, that wasn’t a problem.

The Christopher Sly subplot was used here, and they added the action of him being slung out again at the end. For the rest, the twists and turns of the plot were all perfectly clear, and the various reactions, especially those of Katherine, came across very well. In this production, she seems to be an intelligent but unhappy woman, who can’t see a role for herself as wife and mother amongst these people. Petruchio offers her a lifeline, though it takes her a while to recognise it as she’s become so accustomed to snarling at everybody. Bianca is a simpering little minx, and quite frankly I’d have been irritated with her as well, but here Kate learns to rise above her immature tantrums and play whatever role she needs to. Her father’s outrageous behaviour in selling his daughters off to the highest bidder was softened here by his evident desire to be kind. Petruchio himself is fairly calm, and slower of speech than most I’ve seen; he considers what to say before saying it, but he is capable of quick response as well. He’s an ideal match for Kate; a dating agency couldn’t have done better. The difference between the couples at the end of the play is clear – Petruchio and Kate are likely to have a happy life together, while the other two couples will spend their time bickering and miserable. Unlike us, as we left the theatre, happy to have seen such a good production.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me