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I like my Shakespeare, quite a lot. I like this play, as do lots of other women, or so I understand. Why? It is not a particularly nice play, most of the humour being based on the humiliation and degradation of a woman so as to break her very soul. In today's society, it is difficult to understand how that could ever have been thought of as funny. However, something about this play keeps drawing me back.
This is the fifth production of the Taming of the Shrew I have seen, and the second to have been produced by the RSC. I honestly wondered, having sat through those previous four, if I could handle a fifth. I didn't really think so. The main reason I was drawn in this time was the casting of Michelle Gomez as Kate (the Shrew). I'm very fond of Gomez's previous work (Green Wing, The Book Group and Wedding Belles perhaps being the best known), and was intrigued to see what she'd do with the role. Of course, it would mean I'd have to watch the Shrew, yet again. I'd had about three years off since my last Shrew, so I decided that I could just about handle it. I'm very glad I did.
This is a framing devise for the play, in which Christopher Sly, whilst drunk, is tricked into thinking he is a nobleman for whom a play is to be performed.
Padua, Italy: Katherina and Bianca are the daughters of the wealthy gentleman Baptista. Bianca, the younger daughter has many suitors, however, Baptista will not allow her to marry before her older sister. Katherina, is head-strong and sharp-tongued - a shrew. She scares men off and no-one wants to marry her, despite the wealth of her family. Gremio and Hortensio, two potential suitors of Bianca, decide to join forces and try to find a man who would be willing to marry Katherina, thus paving the way for them with Bianca. They believe they have the perfect suitor in Petrucio, an old friend of Hortensio who is in search of a wife with a large dowry and appears not to be put off by Kate's shrewish nature. She is unwilling, yet agrees to marry, but can she be tamed? Meanwhile, competition between the suitors for Bianca provides much comedy, mainly through disguises and pretence.
There have been many adaptations of the Shrew over the years. The most well known are Cole Porter's musical version 'Kiss me, Kate' and the teen movie 'Ten Things I Hate About You'.
**2008/9 RSC Production**
This is definitely the best production of the Taming of the Shrew that I have seen.
This production retains the Induction section, which is set in a city in the present day where a stag night is taking place. The drunken Christopher Sly is persuaded to watch the play and a truck backs onto the stage. The action that follows makes for a hilarious start to the production, and the number plate on the truck of XME K8 is a lovely touch.
It is well-known that Shakespeare, despite setting many of his plays - the Shrew included - in Italy, never visited the country. The pieces of set brought on by the players reflect this by geographically being all wrong - bits of Rome, Venice etc. all jumbled together to make a generic, stereotypical Italy - a fantasy 'Italy-land'.
The play then starts in earnest. The costume used is very 'Shakespearian', however, as the play progresses, the modern dress gradually creeps back, slowly replacing the period costume until the by end of the play we have returned to complete modern dress. The costume is really well designed and thought out. The use of colour is especially effective. I particularly loved Petrucio's wedding attire which was definitely the most horrible and vulgar interpretation of being 'dressed horribly' that I have seen to date. I'm not going to tell you what, go and see it, it's nasty.
This is a very dark production and the only one I have seen that seemed to be really true to the play that Shakespeare actually wrote, rather than a play that reflects what we think a modern audience wants to watch.
In this production, Petrucio utterly destroys Kate, cruelly taking from her the very things that he loved about her in the first place. She is completely broken. So well is this done that, it many places, it becomes really difficult and uncomfortable to watch. To watch it you feel as if you are intruding on something that really, no-one is supposed to witness. Stephen Boxer and Michelle Gomez are superbly cast as Petrucio and Katherina and work really well together. Boxer is grotesque and often terrifying, whilst still holding onto some level of charm. Gomez's delivery of Kate's final speech is truly the most honest I have ever seen. There is none of the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, or winking to the audience as if to say 'I don't really mean it' that is usually present. Both her performance, and the production as a whole, are so much stronger as a result.
The cast as a whole are very strong, and there are many fine performances with a high level of energy being maintained throughout. Whilst the feel of the play is very dark, they succeed in bringing out a lot of the humour, as well as finding some that I'd not really noticed from reading the play, or in previous versions.
As is the way of the RSC, the play was put together very nicely and could be easily understood - even the children in the audience looked enthralled. I love seeing young people get their first 'real' taste of Shakespeare, the expected language barrier forgotten.
This is a dark and disturbing production that will stay with you a long after the applause.
I saw this production in Stratford in the Courtyard Theatre. This is the temporary home of the RSC whilst the ongoing development of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre takes place, and is situated at the Other Place. The theatre seats an audience of 1,000 and features one of the best examples of the thrust stage around, with the audience seated on three sides of the stage. The design is such so that it would be pretty much impossible NOT to have a good view. The use of the stage in this production is fabulous. The actors play to every seat in the house and make excellent use of the vast stage. Even the space below the stage, via a series of trapdoors, and the aisles are made good use of making you, as an audience member, feel like you are right at the heart of the action - an unseen visitor witnessing the events as they take place.
The play has now finished its run in Stratford and is currently playing in Newcastle. It will arrive in London in early 2009 where it will play at the Novello theatre. The stage space of the Novello is vastly different from that of the Courtyard, featuring the proscenium type stage which is common to the West End. This is the type of stage that has the audience on only one side. I am sorely tempted to go and watch the Shrew again when it transfers to London to see how it has adapted to fit into this kind of space. Different, I would imagine, but still very good. Can I sit through the Shrew for a 6th time? For this production, yes, actually, I really could.
Arsher Ali: 1st Huntsman/1st Servant/Philip
Jade Anouka: Lady's P.Aa/4th Servant/Nicholas
William Beck: Grumio
Stephen Boxer: Christopher Sly/Petruchio
Keir Charles: Tranio
John Paul Connolly: Bouncer/Tailor
Simon Darwen: 3rd Huntsman/3rd Servant/Haberdasher
Aidrian Decosta: 2nd Hunstmas/2nd Servant/Nathaniel
Leonard Fenton: Vincentio
James Garnon: 2nd Player/Curtis
Michelle Gomez: Marion Hackett/Katherina
Amanda Hadingue: Lady/Widow
David Hargreaves: Baptisa Minola
Amara Karan: Cicely Hackett/Bianca
Sean Kearns: Hortensio
Jack Laskey: Biondello
Patrick Moy: Lucentio
Will Sharpe: Bartholomew/Joseph
Peter Shorey: 1st Player/Gremio
Larrington Walker: Merchant
**Dates, venues and prices**
Stratford: Courtyard Theatre
24th April - 25th September 2008
£10 - £38
Newcastle: Theatre Royal
10th - 25th October 2008
£10 - £43
London: Novello Theatre
12th February - 9th March 2009
£5 - £40
© BondgirlK8 October 2008