first night

The Taming of the Shrew

Nikhil Vyas starts off Epiphany term reviewing with ACT's production of 'The Taming of the Shrew'


The Taming of the Shrew is a tricky play to pull off- it sparkles with comedic wit, but it can also come across as horrendously misogynistic, even drawing criticism from Shakespeare's contemporaries for this. As such, I was interested to see how ACT would balance the hilarity with the darker undertones of the script.

This interpretation of the play was set in the 1920s, complete with flapper costumes and a cocktail bar-high praise to producer Laura Chapman for the authenticity of the setting. As such the show was a visual treat, with imaginative usage of the Assembly Rooms stage and stairs, yet I felt that the 1920's context could have been dug into even deeper, with perhaps a greater exploration of the socially oppressive attitudes of the period. Nonetheless, the fantastic jazz band certainly gave the scenes a boost, making for an infectiously fun and enjoyable atmosphere.

It's often noted that the two most common pitfalls for a student production of Shakespeare are pacing and language. Thankfully, neither was a problem in this production- the show positively crackled with energy and humour, effortlessly gripping the audience's attention throughout. This was mainly down to the quality of the acting, which was generally excellent. Tim Blore and Rebecca Cadman were tremendous as the mismatched duo of Petruchio and Katharina. Blore perfectly captured his character's roguish arrogance, which contrasted beautifully with Cadman's hot tempered and bitingly sardonic Katharina. The scene where they first meet was an undoubted highlight of the show, with their fast-paced exchanges zinging with wit and dynamism. Superb performances came also from Sam Westwood and Izzy Mitchell as Hortensio and Gremio, a pair of suitors to Katharina's sister Bianca. They brought great aplomb and liveliness to their roles- by the second act the audience was laughing as soon as they entered onstage. Other standout performers included Josh Williams (Tranio), Xaver Touschek (Grumio) and Sorrel Brown (Biondello), for their vivid characterisations. The whole cast worked together seamlessly, and while there were moments when some actors struggled with Shakespeare's language, the strength of the ensemble and the physical comedy was good enough to overcome this.

Where I thought the show struggled was to adequately deal with the inherent misogyny of the play. Director Courtney Cliffe stated that for her, the play was about two people who become equals through love. To be fair, this was clearly expressed in her vision and the performances, as Katharina and Petruchio slowly strip away their brash exteriors to reveal their insecurities beneath. But in my mind the production hadn't really diluted the blatant unfairness of the gender attitudes that are at work in the script. This meant that I could not shake off a sense of unease during the scenes where Katharina is essentially tortured for having a sense of identity and independence as a woman, or in her final monologue where she acknowledges her 'shrewishness' and vows to be an obedient wife. However I've debated this with fellow audience members who came to different conclusions to me- so my interpretation is definitely not to be taken as fact!

Overall, ACT's The Taming of the Shrew is a more-than-welcome break from revision, with its phenomenal sense of energy, professionalism and joyous atmosphere. I strongly urge you to watch it, firstly to come to your own opinion about the message of the play, but more importantly, to appreciate and enjoy the hard work and talent of the director, cast and crew.

24 April 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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