Theatre in Wales

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Very profound and simultaneously entertaining

The Taming of the Shrew

Watermill/Propeller/Old Vic , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , December-07-06
The Taming of the Shrew by Watermill/Propeller/Old Vic This review originally appeared in a shortened form in The Western Mail.....

Propellor’s new all-male production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew adds an insightful and provocative twist to what many in the twenty first century consider to be a rather outdated depiction of the battle between the sexes.

An innovative and perceptive production (superbly directed by Edward Hall), this is an intelligent interpretation of the familiar story concerning the transformation of a wilful and assertive young woman into a meek and obedient spouse. Unlike so many productions which depict the painful suppression of female spirit in a confusingly light and comic vein, this vibrant and radical version reveals not only Petruchio (who is also doubled as Christoper Sly) to be a brutish and insensitive thug, but also it dramatically attacks men’s often cavalier and harmful treatment of women across the centuries.

This scathing indictment of men’s treatment of women down the ages is suggested by the representation of men from a range of professions, eras and cultures, including the mafia gangster, the bull-fighter, the stereotypical bowler-donning city gent, the eighties medallion man complete with six inch platform boots and the paternal academic (Bravo Carly Marsh and Rachael Thurley in wardrobe). None of these highly familiar caricatures of machismo escapes vilification, and in this way Petruchio (brilliantly portrayed with a sexually provocative swagger by Dugald Bruce Lockhart) is shown to be just a particularly vociferous negative representation of manhood amongst many. This eclectic gang includes a sharp suited money-grabbing father, Baptista (played with aplomb by Bob Barret), the matador-costumed Tranio (stand up Tony Bell!) to Petruchio’s pistol packing cowboy sidekick (hilariously portrayed by Jason Baughan).

An ingenious set design by Laura Martin and Robert Knight uses closets and wardrobes, bringing not only a highly comic dimension to the characters’ exits and entrances, but also hinting at those hidden and often covered up aspects of marital life conveyed by phrases such as “behind closed doors” and “skeletons in the closet”.

Just as the setting is non-specific, so too musical accompaniment (often on stage and performed beautifully by cast members) is diverse and seemingly random – including the sounds of gospel, disco, barber quartet, operatic. Undeniably, this production bombards the senses, but not at the expense of a pertinent and thoughtful intellectual response to issues surrounding power and its misuse.

The few female characters are very much shown to be easy prey to the callous greed and sexual competitiveness of men. Bianca (convincingly portrayed as a quietly determined but outwardly compliant young woman by Jon Trenchard) and The Widow (Dominic Tighe) convey a pragmatic resignation to a world in which dowries are just as important as emotion in the matrimonial stakes. Katherine, meanwhile has to learn the hard way, and Simon Cardifield’s outstanding characterisation of a woman beaten into submission brought a genuine and heartfelt tear to my eye. Indeed, the pain and anguish of Katherine’s closing capitulation to male domination is palpable, and in this way, a play which is often considered to be a light-hearted romp about courtship and marriage is subtly transformed into a disturbingly candid insight into domestic abuse.

Comedy, tragedy, fantasy, realism, pathos and farce all surface in this superb ensemble production – a fitting variety of tones for a play concerned with relationships, courtship and marriage, and for a production of a play that manages to speak with a very profound and simultaneously entertaining voice to a twenty first century audience.

A must see!

Reviewed by: Alison Forsyth

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