The Taming of the Shrew, Arts Theatre Review

Productions that raise questions about gender are something that I am instantly on board with. Whether it be new writing or classic text, gender is something that is so profoundly important to address within theatre. So Custom/Practice Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s famously shocking play was going to be an interesting one.

The Taming of the Shrew, for those of you who have been hiding under theatrical rocks, was famously outed as one of Shakespeare’s most sexist plays. It is about a wealthy lord, Baptista who is trying to marry off his daughters to the highest bidder. Bianca is gentle, beautiful and sweet and Katerina is anything but! The deal is that Bianca cannot get married until Kate does, which poses a problem for Bianca’s many suitors. Cue the churlish Petruchio who agrees to try and woo Kate and succeeds. A story of the powerlessness of women and social hierarchy.

I found myself writing many notes trying to work out whether this particular version was gender flipped or something else? The female actresses were playing the male roles but as females in skirts and dresses, and the male actors were playing the female characters but as females, in high heels and corsets. After spending some time getting my head round it, I came to the conclusion that they were exploring gender fluidity.

Let’s start with Martina Laird who played Petruchio with bags of Caribbean swagger but little depth. The choice to make Petruchio a restless pacer didn’t work for me and I found her constant waving around of a violin bow was distracting and unnecessary. I was expecting the violin to make an appearance at some point, but alas, it just became a displacement activity with no meaning. There were moments of promise, but I lost the reason why Petruchio was treating Kate with such insensitivity and felt that this should have been explored in greater detail.

I enjoyed Kazeem Tosin Amore’s version of the shrew that is Kate. He played this character with great aggression and had a clear journey when Kate finally stops protesting and allows herself to conform and love. Kate’s final speech was delivered with heart and rounded the performance off well. However, I struggled to see how Kazeem was playing one of Shakespeare’s best known female characters as a woman. If this was the angle the company was going for, then it needed more grounding and detail instead of simply putting male actors in corsets.

One of the particular highlights for me was Brigid Lohrey’s Gremio which had the audience struggling to stifle laughter throughout. Her vast physicality, detail in characterisation and comic timing was what made her Gremio scream out from the others. An accomplished performance that resulted in my eyes wandering over to her when she wasn’t even the main focus of the scene.

I must now raise the significant point of truthfulness to the text. Something that I absolutely cannot condone is the altering of Shakespeare’s written words in order to suit a production, especially if a company has flipped the gender. I found myself sighing internally when I heard the first “him” instead of “her.” BLASPHEMY! If you are raising questions about gender, there should be no need to tweak the text in order to project this further; if anything it weakens your argument.

Overall an entertaining but frustrating production which needed more clarity in order to pinpoint the message it was trying to convey.

Taming of the Shrew runs at the Arts Theatre until 1st May.

(c) 2016 Molly Miller

Catherine Lamb - Lucentio/Haberdasher

Kayla Meikle - Tranio
Karlina Grace-Paseda - Baptista
Brigid Lohrey - Gremio
Kazeem Tosin Amore - Katerina
Eugenia Caruso - Hortensio
Tim Bowie - Bianca
Tracy Green - Biondello/Tailor
Martina Laird - Petruchio
Lorenzo Martelli - Grumio/Widower

Director - Rae Mcken
Production Designer - Anna Driftmeier
Lighting Designer - Nic Farman
Sound Designer/Composer - Ed Lewis
Costume Designer - Anna Driftmeier
Movement Director - Angela Gasparetto
Stage Manager - Ruth Burgon
Artwork - Lee Daniels

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