Writer: William Shakespeare
Adaptors: Edward Hall and Roger Warren
Director: Edward Hall
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Classic plays sometimes present a moral maze for modern directors. Themes that may have resonated 400 years ago sometimes jar with contemporary sensibilities. The challenge then for directors is to find a hook for modern audiences.
The Taming of the Shrew is one such ‘problem’ play. Shakespeare’s tale is eminently watchable but its perception nowadays as somewhat misogynistic can be a worry.
For Edward Hall’s Propeller company though, the problem is somewhat overcome by their trademark all-male casting diffusing the gender difference, but mainly thanks to the sheer exuberance of their production.
Although played in modern dress, Hall’s production is somewhat timeless; there’s no reference to particular period or setting, apart from those mentioned in the text and, as such, the action takes centre stage rather than any concept. The approach does make the piece, as one would expect from Propeller, highly accessible but it does also rob the production of a sense of belonging. Though performed with real drive it sometimes feel that we don’t exactly know why we are heading down this particular road.
Overall perhaps itdoesn’tmatter – the whole piece is played with conviction and energy that one can’t help but be drawn into the action, from the pre-show interaction with the company handing out wedding orders of service (the service being conducted by former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams apparently!), through to the final taming of wilful Katherine, the plot is always crystal clear andcentre-most.
There are fine performances from the company who, in traditional Propeller style, move scenery, swap rôles and play live musical accompaniment with a fervent energy. Vince Leigh’s dual rôle as catalyst for the action, drunken reveller Christopher Sly, and suitor for the wild Katherine Petruchio, is thelynch-pinof the production. Leigh brings a measured stance to Petruchio, a more physiological approach to marital bliss than the sheer brute he can be in other productions.
As foil to Leigh’s Petruchio, Dan Wheeler’s Katherine is a beautifully observed creation. Perhaps more pained and misunderstood than the feisty firebrand as originally perceived, Wheeler’s transformation from wilful to subservient is well handled and conceived.
There are also fine performances from Liam O’Brien (Tranio), Arthur Wilson (Bianca) and Benjamin O’Mahony as Grumio.
There’s plenty of comedy here to engage both ear and eye but it never overwhelms the central plot and the company’s ingenious use of live music is more subtle than in previous productions – though still able to rock at the required moments.
Michael Pavelka’s design of shifting mirrored doors allows the company plenty of space to cavort, though the sparse settings does sometime make for a sense of wilderness.
Social commentators may feel that The Taming of The Shrew sits somewhat uncomfortably with modern equality but Propeller’s adaptation makes no judgement and allows the audience to take their own position. By making a production that is wholly accessible, enjoyable and gripping they open up the world of Shakespeare to as wide an audience as possible – and at the end of the day isn’t that really what equality and opportunity are about.
Runs until 2 February then tours