Shakespeare wrote his many plays, sonnets, etc over 400 years ago, when times were very different. Should his work, therefore, be judged against current standards of morality and political correctness? Well, probably not but I have a confession to make. There is one Shakespeare play that I have assiduously avoided. This is mainly because I have thought that no matter how the text is treated, the basic premise of the play will always be wrong from every standpoint and, rather than be entertained, I will end up incensed by the production. However, I was recently persuaded to give it a go and so headed to the Jack Studio Theatre to see Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.
The production starts before it starts and, there is a great deal going on as the audience take their seats, so it is definitely worth being at the front of the queue to go in when the bell rings. However, once the play proper starts, we are introduced to Sly (Gareth Balai) for whom this production is being staged. Then we are transported to Padua in Northern Italy, Where Baptista (Dawn Bush) has a problem. The problem is, her two daughters. The younger Bianca (Sabrina Laurison) is perfect in looks and demeanor. She is permanently being chased by suitors who would like to make her their wife. Chief among these are local men Hortensio (Shiv Rabheru) and the elderly Gremio (CJ de Mooi). However, Baptista will not let Bianca be wooed or marry until her elder daughter Katherina (Charlotte Dowding) is wed. Unfortunately, Katherina is known locally for being, wilful, headstrong and never guarding her tongue, in fact a ‘shrew’ and her suitors are numbered as zero. That is until an old friend of Hortensio’s by the name of Petruchio (Mathew Foster), along with his servant Biondello (Rachel Smart) arrives in town with the intent of enjoying life and finding himself a wife. Hortensio suggests that Petruchio woo and marry Katherina and this he readily agrees to do, claiming that not only will he marry and tame ‘Kate’ he will get her to love him. Hortensio’s plan is looking good but, in an unfair twist, when the tall, handsome Lucento (Samuel Lane) arrives and falls for fair Bianca. In order to meet and woo Bianca without her mother’s knowledge, Lucentio and his servant Tranio (Evangeline Dickson) change identities so servant becomes master and master become a learned scholar giving Bianca lessons. Of course, nobody will be marrying Bianca unless Petruchio can work his magic on Katherina and that will be no walk in the park for him.
Oh, William, why did you write The Taming of the Shrew? No matter how hard one tries to think like someone from the late 1500s, it is impossible to not to get annoyed by the subject of this play which boils down to this. On marriage, a woman ceases to be a human and becomes her husband’s property to do with as he wishes. Of course, those ideas no longer hold true and – let’s be honest – Petruchio’s actions would now lead straight to a divorce court if he was lucky following a long chat with the folks in the blue uniforms about his physical and mental abuse of his spouse.
Right, I’ve got that off my chest, so let’s turn to the production. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show from start to finish.The adaptation of the text by Writer/Director Sara Reimers really works. There is so much humour in the show that it is impossible to stay grumpy at the underlying story for too long. Even Kate’s last speech is delivered in such a way that, and maybe this is just hope on my part, made it seem that just maybe, she had been fooling Petruchio and may have actually had the upper hand herself.
There was a nice dynamic to the cast that worked extremely well. It felt as if everyone was constantly supporting each other and if something happened, would jump in and rescue their fellow performer if it was needed. The performances were a nice mixture of styles, from CJ de Mooi’s fabulously over-the-top Gremio to Mathew Foster’s measured performance as Petruchio – the original ‘man with a plan’ if ever there was one, each character was nicely portrayed, though I have to say, apart from the odd moment, Sly didn’t really do much, but he seemed to have a good time so maybe that’s no bad thing. This was true also of Bianca who did surprisingly little. Possibly this was due to the way the story had been abridged but I just felt there should be more to her tale than there actually was. As far as the production went, I loved Rachel Dingle’s set, which actually starts outside the theatre. Played in the round, with some fascinating costume and music choices, this production of The Taming of the Shrew. works very well at grabbing and holding its audience’s attention from the beginning.
Overall then, whilst I haven’t changed my mind fully about The Taming of the Shrew. I will admit that I did have a thoroughly enjoyable time watching this production. The debate over the misogyny and abuse within the story will no doubt rumble on throughout time but, if you do wish to see a highly energetic and entertaining version of the play, then this is the one I would recommend.
Review by Terry Eastham
Lazarus Theatre’s Season of Legacy continues with Shakespeare’s witty and playful, yet dark and dangerous, The Taming of the Shrew.
Kate talks too much; at least, that’s what the men of Padua think. So they persuade Petruchio to marry her and bring his wilful wife to heel.
Part farce, and part tragedy, The Taming of the Shrew dramatises society’s attempt to control and one woman’s bid to resist. Shakespeare’s witty problem play hits the stage in an all-new ensemble production, using text, movement and a contemporary score. This is Shrew not to be missed.
The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
produced by Lazarus Theatre Company
ues 18 July – Saturday 5 August 2017 at 7.45pm