The Tamer Tamed. The Taming of The Shrew, Stratford Upon Avon

There has always been something about Petruchio’s ‘taming’ of his wife which has sat problematically for audiences. I suppose that is why John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed was such a hit with audiences in 1611. There is a moment during the current RSC production when the audience takes a decided turn against the machinations of Petruchio. Michele Gomez, who plays Katherine, wears a grubby penitent's gowns and after being starved is put back down through a trap door by a servant. After some enthusiastic laughter at the beginning of the play there was a decided silence in the auditorium.

That said this was also a splendidly funny play in places. Gomez’s facial acrobatics raise quite few laughs and Stephen Boxer as the control freak Petruchio and lecherous drunkard Christopher Sly is excellent. The play opens with two ladies of the night in contemporary dress exchanging money, and one (played by Gomez) stares confrontationally at the audience. Lights down and music pounds (with some slight comic irony Calvin Harris’ song ‘I Like All the Girls’.) Into this seedy Soho district stumbles a drunken stag party, with Sly at the rear of a disorganized conga line. He gets thrown out from the bar after attempting to grab one of the ‘girls’.

As the ‘entertainment’ of the players continues, Sly is brought into the drama on stage and acts as Petruchio. The modern setting is turned around and a tower of Italian renaissance architecture is revealed. The modern characters adopt Renaissance dress and the story is propelled forward.

Patrick Moy playing Lucentio was suitably memorable, flouncing round the stage in a post romantic lover's lament as he vied for the attention of Bianca. Bianca, it musk be noted, flirted quite outrageously with all her suitors and their competing for her favours was most entertaining.

As mentioned though, the moment Petruchio’s controlling behaviour sours the humour the audience was left feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Kate enters at the end of the play, dressed in the first decent clothes since her marriage and proclaims her obedience to her husband. Petruchio looks on smilingly, and there is a sense of a geniune attraction on his part, though marred by his need to be in control. This is neatly undercut in this production by the reversion of Kate from the character into the woman she was at the beginning. Petruchio is stripped and shoved aside; left prone upon the ground looking longingly as Kate leaves the stage. A neat way of subverting Kate’s final speech, though it does suggest another layer of dramatic irony. Kate refuses to be treated as chattel to a man; however the play ends with her going back to what appears to be the sex trade. Not so empowering after all.

This was a thought provoking production, that was able to maintain humour for quite some time whilst exploring the political agendas of the play clearly. Check out the link for more info.


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