Writer: William Shakespeare (adapted by Edward Hall &Roger Warren)
Director: Edward Hall
Associate Director: Dugald Bruce-Lockhart
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
This play has provided controversy since it was first staged. What Shakespeare intended may always be subject to debate but, whatever his original motives, the play continues to ignite strong reactions and provoke debate to the current day. This latest production by Propeller brings an intriguing dimension to the play which makes it both hugely engaging and deeply uncomfortable.
This production, using an all-male cast, brings unexpected tension. Propeller’s Kate is not a conventional male dressed in women’s clothes playing a coquettish madam, using feminine manners, strong wit and a waspish tongue to express her fury. Magnificently played by Dan Wheeler, this Kate enters stage immediately tossing furniture and knocking people flat with her bare fists.
Any conventional sympathies for Kate’s reaction against the constraints of a misogynistic, patriarchal society are simply not established. This Kate is physical, brutal, macho, violent and, given no other context to view her, her behaviour can only be seen as offensive.
If we thought Kate was offensive, enter Petruchio. A tremendous performance from Vince Leigh, there appears to be nothing to redeem or explain Petruchio’s dispassionate view towards the way he goes about his choice of bride and his apparently entirely commercial view of marriage.
Removing the source of the tension in the play from being about Kate’s reaction to the unjust and rigid culture she is brought up in focuses our attention on the couple’s manners and behaviour towards each other, in particular Petruchio’s boorish behaviour and the physical and emotional abuse of his wife. It is deeply disturbing to see the psychological torment Kate is put under by her husband. Starved of food and sleep her resistance to Petruchio’s will is crushed. It is very disorientating for the audience and the discomfort builds to deeply unnerving levels right up until the very end of the play.
Despite its uncomfortable tensions, Propeller’s approach introduces the opportunity for much humour about manners and customs and the audience are treated to laughs throughout. There are so many jokes and visual gags – we see quite enough of Petruchio at his wedding. Kate’s stomping, strong left hook and thrashing around the stage have the audience in stitches even before she says anything. The entire cast deliver some fantastic performances at a cracking pace. All the cast sing and many play instruments on stage. It is a tremendous ensemble production.
Edward Hall’s adaptation succeeds in producing a hugely entertaining and thoughtful new angle to a very old play. Propeller’s version gives us a very up-to-date insight into what could be the worst sort of behaviour between couples. Despite the well known themes and storyline, this production manages to maintain the tension until the very last minute. Using modern manners throughout, if this is a play about the worst sort of men discovering how they treat women then Kate still gets the last word. Swivel on it Petruchio!