Lately, there’s been quite a bit of debate in theatre circles around women taking on male roles in Shakespeare plays. Whatever your views on this, I don’t think there can be much stronger an argument in its favour than Arrows and Traps’ gender-inverted production of The Taming of the Shrew at the New Wimbledon Studio.
This isn’t one of my favourite Shakespeare plays; I just don’t feel that comfortable with it. Make all the fluffy Hollywood versions you like, but at the end of the day, it’s still a story that invites us to laugh at abuse. And that’s not all; in Shakespeare’s original text, the play’s female characters serve only as objects for the male characters to pursue and torment.
But not in this version. One look at the front of the show’s programme tells you all you need to know – here, women rule, and it’s the men who find themselves at their mercy.
The story’s framed by the drunken antics of Christopher Sly, played delightfully by Christopher Neels. Tricked into thinking he’s a lord, he sits himself down to watch a play, which is being performed for him by the very people responsible for his deception. Sly may not have many lines, but Neels really knows how to make the most of what he’s got. And he never once breaks character, not even during the interval, as he cheerfully directs audience members to the bar. Honestly, I could quite happily spend an entire evening just watching him lurch around, but there’s so much more waiting to be seen and experienced in this production.
Matriarch Baptista (Cornelia Baumann) won’t allow her much desired son Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) to marry until his older brother does – but unfortunately nobody wants to marry Kajetano (Alexander McMorran) and his notoriously filthy temper. Only Petruchia is willing to take on the challenge of taming him, using slightly questionable, and yet highly effective, methods.
This is the part of the play I’ve always had a problem with, and the gender reversal in this case raises an interesting and uncomfortable question: is a wife abusing her husband better than the other way around? It shouldn’t be, and yet somehow it doesn’t seem quite as bad this way – although perhaps that’s down to Elizabeth Appleby’s portrayal, at once brilliantly bonkers and touchingly vulnerable, which makes you want to believe she’s doing it all for the right reasons.
I’ve seen Arrows and Traps described as ‘everything you want from Shakespeare in a way you’ve never seen before’, and I couldn’t agree more. Ross McGregor’s production has it all: slapstick, innuendo, violence and romance, all packed onto one tiny stage. In fact, at times there’s so much going on that it’s hard to know what to look at. But then there are the quiet, reflective moments that provide balance and stop everything descending into chaos. The first of the musical interludes came as a bit of a surprise, but the songs are beautifully performed by the cast, and the lyrics fit perfectly, providing subtext that I’d never even considered until now. Kajetano’s speech about the importance of respecting women is genuinely moving, as are the final moments of the play, just before darkness falls.
This is a brilliant and inventive new take on an old story, not only proving once again the endless adaptability of Shakespeare, but also that anything men can do, we women are more than equal to. Although whether or not that’s always a good thing is for each individual to decide for themselves.
Review by Liz Dyer
The Taming of the Shrew
May 26th – June 20th, 2015 – New Wimbledon Studio
Critically acclaimed theatre company Arrows & Traps, formerly known as The Shakespeare Sessions, are proud to announce the The Taming of the Shrew, the first in their Love in a Time of War season of Shakespeare plays at the New Wimbledon Studio this summer.
Staged as a play within a play, where roles are swapped and lines are traded, the company re-imagine The Taming of the Shrew with a full cast gender inversion that flips the whole story on its head. The result is a fiery, visceral and brutal comedy about a scathing sexual war of attrition. This is the Shakespeare that Shakespeare would have loved – a new take on an old story, protean and thrillingly articulate; a physical spectacle of spit and sawdust, packed full with luscious, venomous wit.
Petruchia – Elizabeth Appleby
Gremia – Jean Apps
Baptista – Cornelia Baumann
The Tailor – Norma Butikofer
Vincentia – Bridget Mastrocola
Lucentia – Remy Moynes
Trania – Gemma Salter
Kajetano – Alexander McMorran
Bianco – Samuel Morgan-Grahame
Biondella – Pippa Caddick
Grumia – Lucy Caplin
Hortensia – Suzy Gill
The Widower & Curtis – Gareth Kearns
Christopher Sly – Christopher Neels
The Taming of the Shrew
Company Arrows & Traps
Performance Dates May 26th 2015 – June 20th 2015
Tuesday to Saturday, 7:45pm
Saturday matinee, 2:45pm
Running Time 2 hours including 15 min interval
New Wimbledon Theatre, 93 The Broadway, London SW19 1QG
Box Office: https://www.londontheatre1.com/theatres/time-and-leisure-studio/, 0844 871 7646
Thursday 28th May 2015