runs until 20 June
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The Taming of the Shrew, possibly the trickiest of all the Shakespearean comedies, is given a gender-bending overhaul by Arrows and Traps Theatre Company that is full of verbal and physical comedy.
At the core of this production is its complete gender reversal, which puts shrewish man Kajetano at the heart of the tale. He is duly married off by his mother, Baptista and ‘tamed’ by his forceful new wife Petruchia, while brother Bianco pursues his own romantic interests.
This gender inversion is certainly intriguing. It is the men, not the women, whose dowries are negotiated like goods; it is the women who plot and scheme to seduce the man; and it is the female lead who bullies her spouse into submission. Above all, in the notorious final scene it is Kajetano who implores his fellow men to be meek and deferential to their wives.
Now, I’m all for breaking down the oppressive restrictions of the patriarchy, and it is interesting to see gender, and our expectation of it within the work, played with in this way. Yet this reversal of the sexes doesn’t actually make the play much less comfortable in its thorniest passages. Alexander McMorran plays his part well as Kajetano, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that his transition from moody monster to gentle giant is pretty unbelievable, and his utter subservience at the climax of the play is just as ridiculous as Katherina’s in the Bard’s original .
However, there’s plenty of comedy to enjoy here and some strong performances. Gemma Salter shines as Trania, her confidence, stage presence and natural delivery making her instantly the most likeable and watchable member of the cast. In an interesting directorial decision, there is a hint of a love triangle as it is implied that Trania has developed feelings for Bianco whilst planning his marriage to her mistress, Lucentia; Salter does a great job of keeping the references subtle and making this a tender and moving moment.
Elsewhere there is enjoyable comedy from Jean Apps (Gremia) and Lucy Caplin (Grumia – yes, it’s a little confusing), another stand-out in the ensemble, as well as a hilariously silly crowd of ‘minions’ who act as Petruchia’s servants. With physical comedy and nigh-on incomprehensible squeaky voices, they are perhaps a little childish but they really did make me giggle. At times there is a little too much gurning for my taste, with Suzy Gill a particular culprit, but it does suit the intentionally rough-and-ready feel to this show. Zoe Koperski’s set allows for multiple exits and entrances that support the pace of the farce-style comedy that director Ross McGregor has opted for, and comic timing is sharp throughout.
The inclusion of modern musical numbers within the show took a while to win me over, but did in the end due to the strong performances and fluid staging that integrated them into the show. Strict traditionalists may grumble, but this play more than any other cries out for a makeover to avoid its dated and problematic nature. While the gender supremacy still feels like an issue whichever way round it is, Arrows and Traps have created a production that is full of riotous fun and laughs.