The Theatreguide.London Review
The Taming Of The Shrew
RSC at Barbican Theatre Winter 2019-2020
Forty years ago there
was an American TV sitcom called All That Glitters whose premise was
gender role reversal. In its world househusbands stayed home and
watched soap operas while their wives ran businesses and sexually
harassed their male secretaries.
It lasted only a few
used up its one joke midway through the first episode.
Justin Audibert pushes Shakespeare through a similar filter. In a
woman-dominated world a troublesome young man inexplicably named
Katherine is tamed by a swaggering adventuress named Petruchia.
production runs over three hours, and it uses up its one joke within
the first half-hour.
Do the extensive
gender-switches add to the
play's comedy? Not much. Do they illuminate or enrich Shakespeare's
Do they require
extensive rewriting of the text and make
mincemeat of plot and characterisations? Yes. Do they offer us a new
perspective on our own preconceptions about gender roles? Perhaps.
Above all, does this
version work as an evening's entertainment? Not
play as written poses challenges
to modern directors, actors and audiences. On the surface Katherine
is tamed and broken in spirit, losing the feisty energy that made her
an attractive character. But many productions find one way or another
around that difficulty, usually through building on the lines that
suggest irony or a special bond between Kate and Petruchio.
Katherine being tamed and broken in spirit by a female Petruchio does
not solve any of the play's problems and creates new ones, largely
through confusing the characterisations and getting in the way of
some of the play's comedy.
Claire Price has obvious
fun bringing a
lot of swaggering energy to Petruchia. But one can't help suspecting
it would be exactly the same energy she would give to Katherine in a
more conventional production, and with much the same
Joseph Arkley strives
mightily to make some
coherent sense out of a boy named Kate, but finally gives up and just
reads the lines.
Much of the incidental
humour comes from wholly
invented filigree provided by bits of business among
usually-hardly-noticed secondary and tertiary characters.
Laura Elsworthy shows the servant-disguised-as-her-boss Trania really getting into the spirit of the impersonation, while Sophie Stanton as the aged suitor Gremia generates laughs through the gimmick of taking rapid baby steps under a floor-length gown so she seems to be rolling on wheels (a trick stolen from Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night, who stole it from Gower Champion's choreography for Hello Dolly, who stole it from the Bolshoi Ballet).
And, zipping about in
wheelchair, Amy Trigg turns the very small role of Biondella into a
Puck- or Ariel-like spirit directing traffic and keeping things
moving. On the other hand, James Cooney has been directed to flounce
around as a very effeminate Bianco for easy laughs that violate the
whole gender-reversal premise.
Yes, watching the
being done to a man might lead us to look at Shakespeare's gender
psychology in a fresh way, and the sight of all those women onstage
might make us aware of how very few females there are in the original
But that is far too little to justify a production that is too heavy-handed in its politics and simply not funny enough.
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