Reviewed by Ann Durrell
The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies. The plot centres on Petruchio and Katherina who is a shrew, headstrong, stubborn and argumentative. Katherina’s father Baptista despairs of her, desperate to have her married off he declares that no man may marry his more popular and gentler daughter Bianca until Katherina is wed. Enter Petruchio who ‘tames’ the shrew through a series of mind games and torments until she is an obedient wife. Throw into the mix a sub plot of servants disguised as their master and gentlemen disguised as tutors to woo Bianca and you have a comedy.
Today it is often debated as to whether The Taming of the Shrew is misogynistic or not. It appears that the RSC have thought how they would be able to turn this on its head? Why flip the roles of course. Put the women in charge and the men become the objects. In this reimagined production by The Royal Shakespeare Company, Director Justin Audibert has changed the society of the play to a matriarchy.
Widow Baptista (Amanda Harris) has two sons; the eldest is shrewish Katherine (Joseph Arkley) and the younger perfect son Bianco (James Cooney). Katherine is portrayed as lout, eating food off the bone and picking up scraps from the floor, absolutely uncouth. His brother Bianco is the polar opposite, preening and flouncing around flirting with the women who all fawn over him. Enter Petruchia (Claire Price) a swarthy nave, who boldly enters Widow Baptista’s house and declares her intent to marry Katherine, her reason to do so being purely for financial gain of the dowry. Meanwhile, Lucentio has come to town to attend university with her servants, Traino and Biondella (Amy Twigg). Upon setting eyes upon Bianco, she falls in love and hatches a plan to make him her husband.
With a bride secured for Katherine, Baptista will allow Bianco to marry and he has many suitors vying for his attention. Gremio, Baptistas neighbour, Hortensio and the newcomer Lucentio. With her full skirts Gremio, appears to glide across the stage, seemly to give others the illusion of grandeur, either than or she is part ghost. Every time she moves on stage there was a ripple of giggles from the entire audience.
I enjoyed the new slant on what is one of my personal favourites. Arkley’s Katherine is brilliant, his sullenness on his wedding day when he arrives in his finery, complete with clown like powdered make up and rosy cheeks, only to be almost stood up and then shown up by Petruchia was a highlight. Through the play, their power battle becomes more of a meeting of wits and eventually a match of equals. A more fitting conclusion for today’s society, it’s a brilliant play and extremely watchable.
Tickets cost from £18.50 to £33.50 (booking fees may apply).
Royal Shakespeare Company: The Taming of the Shrew is at The Lowry in Manchester from 27 September to 3 October 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000