Taming of the Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, until February 18
TAMING of the Shrew can sit uncomfortably with modern audiences as its misogynistic anti-hero crushes the spirit of the rebellious shrew, Kate.
But in Lucy Bailey’s Taming, set in the ‘man’s world’ of 1940s Italy, the tension between Kate and Petruchio is more sexual than oppressive with her mock grovelling submission to him a final act of foreplay before the two jump into bed together.
Lisa Dillon plays the chain-smoking, sardonic drunken Kate, whose wild rage is quickly revealed as she is first brought on in chains and immediately attacks the taunting men around her.
Her exasperated father will not let goody-two shoes younger sister Bianca (Elizabeth Cadwallader) marry either her ageing suitor, Gremio, (David Rintoul), flash servant-turned-master Tranio (John Marquez) or RSC new comer Gavin Fowler as cute but nerdy Lucentio, until a husband is found to tame her wild sister.
Enter David Caves as Petruchio, the sexy bounty-hunter who will overlook the shrew’s wrath for her generous dowry. Despite Kate’s spitting, urinating and vomiting, Petruchio matches her madness turning up crazed and drunken to collect his new wife, determined to “kill her in her own humour”.
By depriving her of all comforts, even food and sleep, he forces Kate to abandon her feral rebellion, culminating in the apparently broken shrew submitting in obedience to her husband. But the speech seemed more aimed at mocking butter-wouldn’t-melt Bianca and fellow ‘proper’ gentleman and ladies as the shrew immediately lights a cigarette before bedding her husband.
Bailey’s Taming of the Shrew was compelling, performances stunning but most of all, very, very funny.
Hannah Jennings Parry