THE TAMING OF THE SHREW,
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 6th February, 2012
The set for Lucy Bailey’s production consists of turning the entire stage into a bed, a big brown bed. Actors can lift up the covers and scurry around like mice under a blanket. This they do in-between scenes and it loses its charm faster than you can say ‘dutch oven’.
It begins with an “Induction” – a sequence in which a drunken slob (think of Toby Belch selling the Big Issue) is gulled into believing he is in fact a lord, with wife and servants, and even a group of travelling players come to perform. He, Christopher Sly (a grubby Nick Holder) settles down in bed to watch the play. Come the second half, this framing device is dispensed with altogether and Sly goes behind the scenes in a quest for his underpants. Having treated us to views of his bum and cupping his genitals in a saucepan, he is reunited with his grundies. “Pants!” he cries out in triumph. By this point, I was more than ready to agree with him.
This is a heavy handed production with the subtlety of someone else using your bed as a trampoline. Kate – the ‘shrew’ – (Lisa Dillon) is a Tasmanian devil of a woman, brawling, spitting, even pissing standing up. Tracey Emin would consider her a bad bedfellow. She is ‘tamed’ by David Caves’s Petruchio, a sort of Irish Jim Carrey figure, who, rather than ‘curing’ Kate of her wilfulness, shows her he can operate at her level. It is a meeting of minds rather than the imposition of a husband’s will on a wife’s. The inference is that this wild and oh-so-unconventional pair are better off than the straighter couples. Kate ‘submits’ to Petruchio and he ‘submits’ to her. They dash upstage, tearing at their clothes, for a meeting of bodies. I found myself not caring in the slightest.
There is another plot, involving the courting of Kate’s sister Bianca. This is a contest between swains involving deception and swapping identities that has Bianca as the prize. There is some good comic playing from Gavin Fowler as Lucentio in disguise as a nerdy Cambio, Huss Garbiya is a lively and likable Biondello, and I also liked Elizabeth Cadwallader’s playfulness as Bianca but on the whole you get the feeling that everyone is trying too hard. There is little to contrast with the madcap dashing around and vulgarity, no change of tone from the raucous and the low. I found it impossible to engage with, like the only sober one at a booze-up.
The running time seems excessive. Rather than taming a shrew, it is the audience who is beaten into submission. It is like being caught up in someone else’s pillow fight and they have stuffed their pillow with bricks.