Theatre in Wales

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A Terrific Taming

At Theatr Clwyd

Clwyd Theatr Cymru- The Taming of the Shrew , Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru , May 14, 2011
At Theatr Clwyd by Clwyd Theatr Cymru- The Taming of the Shrew On April 16th FilmFour showed Zeffirelli’s 1967 film of “The Taming of the Shrew” in tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. It is opulent, raucous, deeply enjoyable with a seam of sixties hedonism running through it. In art direction and costume it is a Veronese or Mantegna come to life.

Terry Hands has re-envisioned the play for the twenty-first century. Pictorially, he and designer Mark Bailey have hauled it North of the Alps from Padua and re-cast it in Brueghelesque terms. The set’s front walls have patches of broken daub exposing the wattle beneath. Dead rabbits and ducks hang from the back wall. Tankards, until goblets of gold are revealed for the wedding feast, are of pot and pewter. Servants and retainers are in cloth caps and drab colours. When reduced-to-rags Katherina at last arrives to meet Petruccio's retinue of servants they are less Brueghel than an abhorrent cluster plucked from a canvas by Bosch.

The recency of the film's showing is instructive. Richard Burton is grand, magnificently so, with an unquenchable joie de vivre. Elizabeth Taylor is all fire and flared nostrils. Hedydd Dylan's playing of Katherina is different. It is also bigger. She can pucker every muscle from cheek to jaw to indicate disdain and impatience. Her lips can arch downward in contempt. She can speak through bared teeth. But she has a vulnerability as well. See the way in which her fingers tense and clench.

Shrew she may be but this Katherina is grounded in character. The last scene, reinforced by a clever use of costume design, really does look like love between wife and husband. The publicity for the production just says it straight. This “Taming of the Shrew” is a play about how marriages are made.” That is how it looks.

Steven Meo arrives on stage unkempt and reeling, swilling spit and ale over servant Grumio. A tankard is rarely far from his hand. His breeches are made of sacking. At his marriage one of his boots is split and dangles around his ankle. A preposterous hat, the shape and diameter of a dinner plate, has a habit of falling off. To freshen himself up to go a-wooing he dunks his head in a pail of water. But it is a performance with more than a surface roisterousness. When he confides to potential father-in-law that he has what is needed to take on his tempestuous daughter a single eyebrow flicks up knowingly.

Amy Morgan's Bianca is a coquette in cream with silver earrings and bouncing blonde ringlets. But more than just sweet contrast to noisesome Kate there is a touch of the same steel to her. They really do feel like sisters.

The company features Theatr Clywd stalwarts in John Cording, Daniel Llewelyn-Williams and Joshua Richards. Newcomer James Haggie plays Biondello as a yellow-haired, pan pipes-playing, timorous cherub. Robert Blythe as Baptista does a jump in the air at the prospect of his troublesome daughter's betrothal. Sion Pritchard is an endlessly effervescent Tranio. Simon Holland Roberts is a leering, bent double Grumio in a pair of outsize corduroy pantaloons and weighed down by a giant satchel. Brendan Charleson's Christopher Sly has the alcohol-engorged nose of a toper of an Olympic scarletness.

Colin Towns' music is used sparingly but includes a sonorous bass sound for the fourth act. Lora Davies is associate director on a production with the characteristics of Theatr Clwyd; a penetrating attention to author, an exactitude and detail in design, acting of freshness irrespective of the size of the role, an acute applied intelligence. All these qualities earned their due from a packed house.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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