What must it be like to be the real person in, what many – myself included – believe to be Shakespeare’s most misogynistic play? If you want to know then head down to the Camden People’s Theatre and see “Shrew”
Kate/Katharine/Katharina/The Shrew (Ami Jay) is a woman trapped by life. She is the product of a dead mother and an unloving boring father who was desperate to get rid of her. Unfortunately, Kate’s temper is notorious, and it was thought no man would ever wish to marry her. This is very upsetting for her sister Bianca who, under the etiquette of the day cannot marry until Kate does. Into Kate’s life came Petruchio and in desperation, her father utters these immortal and highly disturbing words ‘I am agreed, and would I had given him the best horse in Padua to begin his wooing that would thoroughly woo her, wed her, and bed her, and rid the house of her’. Talk about romance, but anyway, Petruchio does take Kate as his wife – not even allowing her time to get and wear a wedding dress – and drags her away then sets about taming the ‘Shrew’ using what some consider reverse psychology and others psychological abuse.
“Shrew” is an amazing play in many respects. In my opinion, Shakespeare didn’t write women that well – few of his female characters seem to me to be quite right. This lack of depth has left writer/actress Ami Jay unlimited scope to explore the woman behind the title. Ami could have written Kate in a way that would totally convince the audience that she was the misunderstood personification of the Archangel Gabriel brought to earth. Luckily, she has resisted the urge to do so and the Kate we see, is a normal woman who is trying to make sense of the world whilst trapped in a forced marriage to a man she doesn’t love and with no family network to support her. Yes, she does rant and rave – and Ami’s acting is so powerful at these points – but given the life she has been forced into, I think she is unbelievably restrained. She is an obviously intelligent and eloquent woman who has to submit to the will of others, leading to physical habits that would have psychiatrists reaching for their notepad and Valium prescription. The most disturbing are the balls. Kate seems to be obsessed with them. Every time she goes to her trunk – seemingly the only possession she has – more of them fall out and roll across the stage and at times, she simply sits or stands bouncing one like the ticking of a clock watching as her life ticks by.
Director Abigail Pickard Price keeps a light touch that works so well. A strategically placed microphone adds emphasis to certain passages and Ami having a copy of the play in her hands at time – even utilising a member of the audience to read one of the most important passages (though not necessarily in the way that Shakespeare intended) – in an effort to help Kate try and understand how her life has got to this point works amazingly well. There is no criticism of Shakespeare in the narrative but you get the feeling that Kate really resents the character she has been portrayed by the playwright, a sentiment that I really do agree with.
Overall, “Shrew” is a fascinating play. It is only around 45 minutes long but by the end of the show I had much more of an understanding of Kate/Katharine/Katharina/The Shrew as a character and as a person. I think if I had met her in real life before she was married, I would have quite liked her – temper tantrums and all – and I personally would have fought her father to stop the evil Petruchio from spoiling this wonderful woman and ruining her life forever.
Review by Terry Eastham
Camden People’s Theatre
Tuesday 23rd June to Sunday 28th June 2015
Presented by Ami Jay
This is all wrong. I’m not supposed to have ended up here. Who the fuck put me here?
Katharina – or Katharine, or Kate, or the Shrew, she isn’t sure which – is trapped. She laughs. She rails. She throws things. She reminisces. About her father, who never seemed to care. About her sister, who figured it all out better than she did. And – most and least – about her husband, who made it all happen and who destroyed it all in equal measure. She is equal parts funny, sad, and repulsive. She is a tragic figure stuck in comedy. She is waiting for her audience to come back.
Shrew is a new one-woman play – a wry, clever and provocative twist on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It takes one of literature’s most notorious, puzzling and disturbing women and probes her, shakes her up, and turns her inside out. It asks what it means to be someone, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be trapped in our own underwhelming destinies.