The Taming of the Shrew
RSC Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Tuesday 7th February 2012
The premise of The Taming of the Shrew is one that, fortunately, has not stood the test of time in its relevancy to the audience. A story of the persecution of a young woman because she is headstrong, willful and uncontrollable. She is married off by her worn out father to the first man who asks, who then precedes to emotionally beat her into submission. And all this is offered as a lighthearted comedy! But perhaps I am a cynic. The Director of the RSC's latest production has taken a more romantic view of the story, where the two main characters are misfit lovers, who would otherwise be lonely if it weren't for their being drawn to one another.
The entire acting space of the RST is transformed into an over-sized bed, complete with pillow-like mounds for the actors to climb up and down at one end, and an enormous blanket to cover the whole space.
Our Shrew, Kate (Lisa Dillon), was played with hateful venom and energy, at one point relieving herself directly onto the stage, and was a believable menace to behold. Her Tamer, Petruchio, played by David Caves, was calm and strong and seemed to take much amusement from the wrath of his young Shrew. Their scenes together were electric, performed with speed and grace. I did not, however, feel any of the love between them at any point in Kate's progression from Shrew to Wife, that should be the saving grace of her ordeal. At no point did their fighting take on an edge of flirtation on her part, and what could almost have been such from him came across as smug supremacy rather than affection.
Bianca (Elizabeth Cadwallader) and her trio of love-interests were wonderful. Amusing, energetic and typically Shakespearean in their confusion and disguise, all the scenes in this storyline were engaging and enjoyably comical.
The real winner comically however was outside of the play-within-a-play, which dominates the vast majority of the action, in the character of Christopher Sly (Nick Holder). His deception and subsequent confusion in the very first scene were hilarious. He remained on stage throughout the entire first act, laying under various sections of the stage-bed watching the action. The removal of his underwear and resultant running around half-naked was a simple, inspired idea that left the audience laughing into the interval.