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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Kiss Me Petruchio
New York Shakespeare Festival and YouTube   September 2021

This is a made-for-television on- and off-stage account of a 1978 New York Shakespeare Festival (i.e., free performances in Central Park) production of The Taming Of The Shrew.

It is a total delight, from start theatre-goers happily queuing up for their free tickets in what amounts to a long thin picnic to finish stars Raul Julia and Meryl Streep taking their curtain calls in character.

In between we see key scenes from the play performed with verve and wit, interspersed with backstage comments by the stars that are more intelligent, insightful and clearly expressed than you'd get from a library full of English professors.

Highlight of the hour is the play's meeting scene, which I have never seen bettered in any of the dozens of productions I've experienced.

As Raul Julia comments, the special relationship with the audience encouraged him to use his own personality and even his Puerto Rican machismo in the character, while Meryl Streep spots that Katherine is a strong woman trapped in a society that doesn't know what to do with her.

This leads both actors to the discovery that the play is more a liberation than a taming, and they play it that way.

The meeting scene is a delight and a revelation because they show the couple not just fighting (as Burton and Taylor do in their movie version) but feeling each other out, and visibly becoming more intrigued and attracted as they discover how much more there is to the other than they thought.

In one backstage comment Streep tells us the point at which she thinks Kate falls in love, and then we move out front and watch the actress play that moment in eloquent silence.

I assume that director Wilford Leach is to be credited for guiding them to much of this, as well as for some of the brilliant stage business watch, for example, how a passing comment in Shakespeare's text to Kate limping is developed into a string of funny and also quite touching bits of action.

And theatre fans will be delighted to discover that a certain amount of actorly competition is built into the experience after one scene Streep exults backstage 'I won tonight. They were on my side.'

I can't imagine any Shakespeare- lover or academic expert not learning new and exciting things from this production, and I can't imagine any Shakespeare-hater seeing this and not wanting to run right out and see the whole play

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Kiss Me Petruchio  2021