Monday, July 21, 2014

The Taming of the Shrew. At Freewill Shakespeare, Edmonton.

     The Taming of the Shrew. At Freewill Shakespeare, Edmonton. [D: Marianne Copithorne. With Mary Hulbert, James MacDonald et al] Ah, TTotS, a play that will annoy some part of the audience no matter how it’s done. The Freewill Shakespeare Company opted for farce, irony, modernising the mise en scene, and a hefty reminder of the Commedia dell’Arte heritage of the play. This worked quite well, although the visuals were sometimes overdone.
     The crucial question about this play is how to imagine Katherine the Shrew and Petruchio the fortune hunter. It’s clear enough that she behaves as she does because she thinks she’s unlovable. Her sister, who could a keep a pound of butter cooling in her mouth, is Daddy’s Darling, and a manipulative little bitch. How can Katherine compete with that? She can’t, so she overacts the reputation imposed on her.
     Petruchio, who decides that the rich dowry that comes with Katherine is worth working for, discovers almost immediately that Katherine’s unwillingness to conform to social expectations matches his own. All he has to do is to tame her, and convince her that he loves her despite her rage. There are enough hints in the text for an imaginative director to emphasise these aspects of character and plot, and Copithorne IMO succeeds. She has a clear vision of what she wants, both in the staging of the play as a farce, and in the subtext about courtship, love and marriage that informs the rather silly plot.
     The actors bring out the subtext nicely. We see from the first kiss that Katherine and Petruchio are attracted to each other almost despite themselves. By the time we see Katherine address the old man on the road as a fair young damsel, we intuit that she is playing a game, and furthermore that Petruchio knows it. In the final speech, where she describes the proper relationship between husband and wife, we see that she understands her own words doubly. On the one hand, given the social and economic realities of the time, a wife was utterly dependent on her husband. On the other hand, she has come to respect Petruchio as her equal, which he acknowledges by kneeling before her. We know that the practicalities of household and estate management will not interfere with their enjoyment of each other.
     Set changes were nicely done, music was well chosen, incidental business was both suitable and well-done, the company displayed excellent ensemble acting, all in all a very pleasant evening at the theatre. Recommended. ***½

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