The Taming of the Shrew at the Arts Theatre
What do you get when you take a play about a man bent on “taming” an unruly woman, who is less pretty than her sister, whilst other men plot to clear the field of her in order to woo her more comely sibling, and reverse the sex/gender of every character?
What you get is Custom/Practice’s take on Shakespeare’s classic, The Taming of the Shrew – and it’s rollickingly good fun. It shows as part of the Verve Arts Festival, an event run by and for young artists, musicians, and actors with the aim of encouraging new talent and bringing a spotlight to the deserving but unknown. The play revels in uprooting RSC-brand Shakespeare and turning it – or returning it, if you like – to its dirty, bawdy origins, where duplicity of language and thought reign.
Katherina (Kazeem Tosin Amore) and Bianca (Tom Bowie) are brought on in doublets, over which they wear corsets; Bianca’s mouth is smothered with lipstick and her feet are in high heels. The male characters are clearly meant to be not only as subdued as Shakespeare’s original text suggested, but also much more submissive. A gross sexuality runs through Custom/Practice’s version, as Petruchio (Martina Laird) enters in a suit made of gold, brandishing a violin bow like a sword, loud with virility. She is maniacally piratical, successively tormenting Katherina by verbally assaulting, and then trying to “ride” – and physically assault him – in an effort to break his spirit.
Shoutouts must go to Lucentio (Catherine Lamb) who plays a lusty and grippingly cunning female suitor to Bianca, and Gremio (Brigid Lohrey) who is master of facial and bodily comedy, enacting so many contortions as to leave the audience in stitches. He evokes the visceral humour of the kind seen in The Good Life’s Margo Leadbetter or Keeping Up Appearances’ Hyacinth Bouquet.
Katherina’s advice to his fellow spouses to “place your hands below your husband’s foot” still makes any modern viewer wince as the original does, and like Shakespeare, Custom/Practice leave just as many questions as they do answers. For a play that is seen as misogynistic, subversive, or difficult, the group have opened it up to receive new questions, thoughts and feelings, in a way that a contemporary audience will understand. And besides all that, you will be hard-pushed to find another production that is performed with quite so much aplomb, or executed with so much energy.
Photos: Boris Mitkov
The Taming of the Shrew is on at the Arts Theatre from 5th April until 1st May 2016, for further information or to book visit .