'The Woman’s Prize' or 'The Tamer Tamed' as it is known is a Jacobean comedy written by John Fletcher, who was born some fifteen years after William Shakespeare and wrote the play as a response to The Taming of The Shrew. This adaptation has been written, produced and directed by Maeve Middleton who studied Jacobean Theatre at the University of Liverpool earning an MA in Renaissance Literature in 1990.
Middleton’s play is set ten years after Shakespeare’s fiery Katherine has been ‘tamed’ into submission by her domineering husband Petruchio. Kate has gone to an early grave and Petruchio wastes no time in taking a new bride, a maiden Maria. Petruchio gets his comeuppance when Maria refuses to consummate the marriage until her demands have been met. Maria forms an alliance with Kate’s sister Bianca to create a ‘women’s army’ to fight against male oppression. Maria’s younger sister Livia joins in the protest of the married women. Livia is in love with Rowland but her father, Petronius, has arranged a marriage with the old and unpleasant but wealthy Moroso in the original but named here as Gremio. Livia wants to marry her own choice of husband, Rowland. The play follows the story through protest and deception until Maria and Livia succeed.
The original play would most likely have been performed in the courtyard of an inn, so the back room of the Casa bar is a fitting setting for this work-in-progress. Attention to Jacobean detail is observed in a two-tiered set of a small raised platform stage that struggled at times to hold the enthusiastic amateur cast of twelve players with a clumsy white cardboard tower sketched with stones representing the upper floor of Maria’s house. This was obviously intentional and only added to the humour. Costumes were provided by the cast and modern in style. Oversized jackets hung off the men like they were being subsumed into them. A white knit woollen bonnet with a bobble on top worn throughout by Gremio, the elderly would-be-husband of Livia, played with much stick waving and lechery by Mick Dalziel, transpired later to be a nightcap. As in these period dramas the men outweighed the women two to one, but Maeve managed to boost the female ratio with a sudden march through the audience of a group of banner waving women chanting about women’s rights and the hilarious addition of a woman servant, played by the very understated Chris Armstrong, who also doubled as a police officer, in a high viz vest, of the knee bending ‘evenin all’ variety.
As stated this is a work-in-progress and a huge undertaking with modernised Shakespearean language, lengthy dialogue and few props. As Petruchio played by Kevin Williams struggled to subdue his new wife as much as to remember his lines, much prompting front of stage became even more hilarious when the somewhat dishevelled cast began to shout back. The flame-haired Maria played admirably by Angela McComb held on to her lines supported by Sarah Hall playing Kate’s sister Bianca in an amazing straight-faced performance seemingly unfazed by the chaos surrounding her. A young Abby Fitzhenry played Livia with grace and comic timing as she towered over an almost word perfect, small but perfectly formed Rowland played by PJ Murray in an enormous waistcoat representing the love-struck boy trying to become a man. Adam Byrne as Petruchio’s friend grew more confident in each scene, managing to look permanently startled in his jaunty pork-pie hat, not least when Maria pushes Petruchio too far when she declares her love for him rather than her husband and presses her ring on his finger.
All in all, it is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time and full credit to Maeve Middleton for tackling such a huge project and succeeding in bringing a little insight to a much bawdier historical time. Loosen your stays, relax your cod-pieces, go and have a giggle.
Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock
on - 20/7/18