Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Taming of the Shrew

Welsh College of Music and Drama , Welsh College of Music and Drama , December-01-00
This was a really good night out! A cynic might well dismiss the possibility of students succeeding with this particularly 'problem' Shakespeare play but this production in the Sherman Arena, Cardiff confounds that thought. We're in the 1980s. We're in Italy - Mafia Land. The programme tells us that and as we enter the Arena Theatre the elegant and sensual setting confirms this and the songs of Frank Sinatra and friends link the scenes. After the first ten minutes or so, the actors' tongues get accustomed to Shakespeare's rhythms and long sentences and clearly set out the complicated plot before us.

Shakespeare's mastery is always to the fore. Nick Smithers gives us a very convincing North Country Dad. His setting up of the conditions for Bianca's marriage and the problems to be overcome in 'taming' Katherine plot out for us the complicated road the play must follow in a way associated with much more modern drama. But Shakespeare knew every thing about play writing that there is to know and everything since has been variations on his themes. Both Lucy Donavan-Bianca and Sally Evans-Katherine are much at home with the verse right from the start. Lucy gives us a highly desirable creature; sensuality and innocence all wrapped up together.

Kate's cussedness is played low-keyed with stomach crunching intensity rather than the loud shrieking that is adopted by some actresses playing this role. The arrival on the stage of Mark Winstanley's Petruchio causes the audience to both relax into the performance and to respond totally to his charms. We are all gunning for him as he plots to tame his shrew. Perhaps Katherine could have demonstrated her reluctance a little stronger but she's certainly not going to be an easy pushover Director Katherine Rogers, in the programme note, expresses the hope that the context of this production will enable us to relate the play to the 'here and now'.

Is this Katherine playing this Petrucio along? He shows no sign of awareness of this, his confident and commanding performance tells that he is sure he is in control at all times. Once they have become married, the way in which he continues to wear down her spirit is far less cleverly calculated and Winstanley loses some of our respect for his character.

Has Katherine also noticed? Whilst the words and the emotion uttered with them indicate her complete capitulation in the closing speech of the play. The muscles in her body indicate there is still a bit of the old Katherine there. And perhaps that's the modern concept. Today's woman remains in control whatever her man may think!

This was a great team effort in the best sense of that phrase. The other members of the cast revelled in their Mafioso environment and take us through the story of the play with great charm and enthusiasm.

A first class production of a Shakespeare play with a large cast by a professional, revenue-supported company is not likely to be seen, produced in Cardiff, in the foreseeable future. Our thanks must go Welsh College of Music and Drama.

This article is Michael Kelligan 2000

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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