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The Taming of the Shrew – Oxford Playhouse @ Bodleian

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Joe Murphy

Reviewer: Mary Tapper

[Rating:3]

The Taming of The Shrew Oxford Playhouse Helena MisciosciaSummer is here with a vengeance and, with fine weather forecast for at least the next ten days, what better than some outdoor theatre in a beautiful historic setting. For the sixth year running the Globe theatre are at the Bodleian, a beautiful setting where the huge courtyard walls insulate you from the busy traffic nearby and, with the majestic wooden gates slammed shut, you are transported instantly into another time, perfect for a fine Shakespeare play. So does this Taming of the Shrew live up to expectations and the high standards previously seen for other productions?

The story is, at heart, a simple one. Baptista has two daughters, one charming and polite, the other rude and harsh, our shrew Kate. The younger daughter, Bianca, has suitors who wish to marry her, but her father insists that the older daughter Kate must be married first. Throw in the arrival of a young noble man, Lucentio, who also falls for the divine Bianca and a swaggering confident Petruchio who is happy to marry our Kate for money and “tame” her, and you have the beginnings of a plot! Add in mistaken identities and subterfuge and the entertainment begins.

The action all takes place in front of a simple red and white striped tent with many costume changes inside and a simple wooden stage in front. Costumes are good with Kate in a splendid wedding dress and rather dapper “three men in a boat” style outfits for Tranio and Lucentio. Our main man, Petruchio looks the part in a long leather coat and boots. There is an attempt made to place characters within the crowd at various points but dialogue becomes very hard to hear so this does not add to the production. Luckily this device is little used so it does not become an issue.

Here we have a twist on tradition, with an all female cast of eight doubling up to play all the parts. Some are more successful in the rôles than others and in general the concept works well. Kathryn Hunter as the father of the two daughters and servant Grumio (to name but two of her parts) is magnificent throughout and Remy Beasley, as Tranio, lights up the stage whenever she appears, mixing accents as she goes and connecting with the audience right from the off. Unfortunately the director has chosen to portray Kate as a mildly unpleasant character and, as such, her subsequent treatment seems both cruel and unnecessary. As an audience, we wonder what is so bad about her behaviour and general demeanour and, with the sympathy all with Kate, the play becomes a little incoherent. There is also not the irresistible chemistry with Petruchio (Leah Whitaker) that so often makes this strange tale more believable and the couple are rather trumped on that score by Becci Gemmell, as Lucentio, and Olivia Morgan, as Bianca, in a lovely scene where they woo each other while other suitors watch from afar. The final scene is played straight, without irony, and, while Kate manages to embarrass Petruchio with her soliloquy, we are left feeling completely uncomfortable and the subsequent jolly song seems rather out of place. It certainly inspires comment afterwards from the audience, who have plenty to take away and talk about, but it seems a shame that the director gives us no real debate – without the sexual attraction and strange mutual respect our Kate seems no more than an abused woman.

Having said that there is lots to admire within the production. The wedding scene, where Kate is waiting for Petruchio, is a joy, and the banter between Lucentio and Tranio is lovely, with fist pumping, high fives and knowing looks. The second half fairly whizzes along with misunderstandings and revelations being brought about and resolved smartly and clearly. The music, however, while beautifully executed, does not really engage the audience and seems a little self-indulgent. It is also quite difficult to hear some of the dialogue at the start, as the quick speech bounces off the courtyard walls to produce a slight echo, but this improves as the production settles into its stride.

So, a production that has its good and bad points. Worth seeing, if only to debate the production decisions here and there, but not really the coherent, inspiring treat that we expect from the Globe.

Runs until 21st July

Picture:Helena Miscioscia

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