Last Updated on November 11, 2019 by Fiona Maclean
The RSC – Taming of the Shrew Autumn 2019.
Justin Audibert’s gender-swapping production of The Taming of The Shrew for the RSC has just landed at The Barbican Theatre having recently transferred from Stratford. Audibert flips the gender politics of the original staging the play with a rollicking Elizabethan flourish that brings this ‘difficult to stage’ text firmly into the contemporary world. The drama is set in Padua in Northern Italy, a completely matriarchal society in which this drama of courtship and control unfolds. Aristocrat Baptista Minola (Amanda Harris) is looking to find suitable spouses for her two sons, the younger Bianco, played with a coquettish hair-tossing confidence by James Cooney, and the surly, elder Katherine – the ‘Shrew’ of the title – whom Baptista decides must be married first. The play opens with Emily Johnstone’s Lucentia arrival in the city. She gets a serious case of the hots for Bianco and aided and abetted by her servant Trania hatches a plan to masquerade as Bianco’s music teacher to steal a march on her rival suitors. Trania, in a deliciously grotesque comic turn by Laura Elsworthy, poses as Lucentia creating further complications as the narrative unfolds. One of those rivals is Sophie Stanton’s Gremia whose menopausal desire for Bianco is perfectly pitched as she literally glides around the stage a bit like a Dalek on HRT. But the main focus of the play is how unsophisticated out-of-towner Petruchia, delivered by Claire Price with a Hepburnesque swagger and a rat’s nest of a hairdo takes on the challenge of marrying and then ‘taming’ Katherine. As an entitled middle-aged man I felt a sense of unease as Joseph Arkley’s previously feisty Katherine was starved into a servile submission under the guise of Petruchia’s ‘kindness’. But then that was the point of the production – to get people like me to be confronted with our gender assumptions. The production and Arkley’s performance highlight how Katherine’s transition from an assertive mode of being to a more passive habitus like his brother is what is the accepted norm in that society. However the show is much more than a feminist diatribe; Ruth Chan’s music crosses genres effectively, Hannah Clark provides splendid Elizabethan costumes, Lucy Cullingford’s use of movement is inventive, and there are a host of wonderful performances and comedic moments to enjoy including Amy Trigg’s prestissimo and beautifully articulated delivery of a long complicated speech that seems almost impossible. The RSC company has three productions featuring a company of 27 actors in repertory for this Barbican season. We’ve seen and reviewed As You Like It, directed by Kimberley Sykes which runs from 26 October 2019 – 18 January 2020. The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Justin Audibert runs from 5 November 2019 – 18 January 2020 and Measure for Measure, directed by Gregory Doran shows from 12 November 2019 – 16 January 2020.
And with 200 seats at £10 or less for every performance it’s a real steal!
RSC box office: 01789 331111
Silk Street, London