Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Pamela Schermann
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
The Taming of the Shrew is a fairly controversial play today. Its major idea is that women are little more than goods, chattels or household stuff and this, rightly, does not sit well with supporters of womens’ rights. Some readings of the play will view Katharina as a deeply flawed character who needs to be shown a way to a happier life. Others, like this one, will show a male dominated world where women are traded and swapped with little care for their own wishes or wills.
Pamela Schermann embraces the latter reading and her piece is an angry, tense and occasionally very good version. Unfortunately, it stumbles along the way and leaves one a little confused about the message. This version seeks to highlight the issue of human trafficking, but without reading that little fact in the programme, it is not something noticeable in the performance.
To recap: Baptista (Alexa Brown plays this female Baptista) has two daughters, Katharina and Bianca (Carmina Kato and Alexa Hartley respectively). She wants them wed, and for Bianca that isn’t a problem. For Kate though, who is widely regarded as the worst woman in Padua, it is more of an issue. Bianca’s suitors conspire to marry off Kate as without her marriage affected, Baptista will not release Bianca’s hand. They find in Petruchio a man who has come to “wive it wealthily in Padua” and set about getting him and Kate married with the promise of a huge dowry.
Petruchio (Benedict Salter) is the highlight of this version. He’s the most complex character by far, and is responsible for pretty much all the real tension and moral lessons in the play. Salter plays it well, though there are still some questions regarding his character and motives left unresolved. There seems to be a guilt, an internal dilemma, behind his treatment of Kate, but with nothing explained he’s left as a question mark. The character of Kate herself is quite interesting. Viewed in the context of a victim of human trafficking, it gives us a saddening impression of what life is like for women broken by violence and the trade in flesh. Without that frame, she’s still a woman whose spirit has been cracked open by an abusive new husband which itself has enormous value as a message.
There are some other good moments apart from those involving Petruchio, though in general they don’t excite as much. The Taming of the Shrew is a play with many possible angles and the one explored here is a great one. Time Zone theatre company has made a funny, thought provoking piece and Salter’s performance as Petruchio is very worth going to see. It’s a pity that the mix of energies from the scenes lead to a stuttering flow in the pace and the questions raised about characters and morality are not fully investigated, let alone answered. Why, for example, is Baptista adamant that the shrewish daughter should have a man who loves her yet sells the pretty one off happily? This isn’t necessarily an issue with this performance in general, more the play itself, but in the context of a human trafficking frame it seems like an important point to address.
It is not without its issues, but anyone looking for an interesting take on a classic, much loved and well worn play should most certainly make their way to Bankside.