Saturday 28 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Taming Of The Shrew - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

This is a modern adaptation of a classic comedy about a wealthy merchant Baptista, who has two daughters he wishes to marry off, Katherine and Bianca. The youngest, Bianca, has many admirers but is unable to marry until the eldest, Katherine, a sharp-tongued tempestuous “shrew” is married off first.

In the original play Lucentio, a young student, sees Bianca and falls in love, but Bianca already has two suitors rivalling for her affections, Hortensio a fortune hunter and the elderly but very wealthy Gremio. Gremio unwittingly hires Lucentio under the guise of a tutor to woo Bianca on his behalf, while Hortensio pretends to be a musician to tutor Bianca and win her affections. At this point Petrichio a friend of Hortencio comes from Verona to visit and hears about the feisty Kate, he too is looking to marry into a rich family for the dowry and likes the idea of a challenge. Baptista who is weary of the tiresome Kate agrees they can be married and so against her will she is married and whisked off by Petruchio to his home where he begins to wear her resistance down through unusual methods until she is submissive and obedient, hence the play's title.

In Justin Audibert's twist on this historic tale the gender roles are reversed. Unlike the time in Elizabethan England where women were second-class citizens and seen almost like a goods commodity, it is the men who fall in to this role. The women are the dominant sex, their characters boldly look you in the eye and the men are portrayed as demure and timid. Petruchio becomes Petruchia, Lucentio is Lucentia. Katherine and Bianca have the same names but are played by men.

As the play progresses it weaves and twists humorously through the sub-plots as each of the characters set about achieving their goals.

To set the scene the play begins with the orchestra playing Renaissance style music with a contemporary twist and the characters enter the set to perform an Elizabethan dance but it is the women who take the lead. Their costumes are sumptuous, rich velvet and structured as was the fashion of the era. They move boldly and confidently whilst the men (all except the bold Katherine) have long loose hair and were smaller in stature. The costumes of the male leads is floral and feminine yet of the style from the time.

The set is simple, as one would imagine in an Elizabethan theatre, with lots of doors which were used to good effect to change the scene without the use of many props. Changes to the set are done manually, yet seamlessly and very often amusingly as little interludes in themselves.

The cast gave outstanding performances as you would expect from an RSC production. Baptisa, played by Amanda Harris was the matriarch of the family and Katherine, played by Joseph Arkley was her strong willed son, who as the play progressed saw his spirit broken. Changed costumes reinforced this process with him being portrayed in torn and tatty clothes rather than the rich garments he was used to. By the end of the play he is a biddable, obedient husband. His portrayal complimented the forcible and at times brash character of Petruchia played by Claire Price. The complete opposite showed the cosseted Bianco, played by James Cooney, as a simpering flighty male who is quite self-absorbed and ready to fall in love given the right amount of wooing! His character was humorous in portraying perceived feminine affectations.

Gremia, the older suitor to Bianca, played by Sophie Stanton was fantastic and had you not quite believing your eyes as she literally glided across the stage and the facial expressions used at various points in her performance were most amusing. Lucentia, the smitten suitor of Bianco was portryed by Emily Johnstone who got her servant Trania played by Laura Elsworthy to pretend to be her. The comic performances as they switched roles with Lucentia as the servant, combined with Elsworthy's northern accent and dramatic flounces made the dialogue very funny. Amy Trigg, Lucentia's other servant Biondella gave some comic peformances especially when explaining the whereabouts of Petruchia in the wedding scene and Richard Clews, who was Pertucia's old servant Grumio gave many comic performances as he misinterpreted Petruchia's instructions.

The role reversal gives a fresh, new and very thought-provoking perspective to the play. It has you re-assessing scenarios as a result of the dual impact of the historic changes in views and perspectives as a result of the gender flip.

Well worth seeing and more so if you have seen the original version.

Reviewer - Catherine Gall
on - 27/9/19

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