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The Taming of the Shrew (Susan Elkin reviews)


Photo: Nikki Leigh Scott

society/company: West End & Fringe
performance date: 09 Oct 2018
venue: Tristan Bates Theatre, London

They do things differently at Shake-Scene. Actors are given their parts and their cues but do not see the rest of the play or rehearse together in advance. This is, of course, how it was done in Shakespeare’s time – when there was no copyright law – to prevent actors from selling play texts to other companies.

I saw the second performance of The Taming of the Shrew rather than the first so these eleven actors, directed by Lizzie Conrad Hughes who sits at the side on the stage “on the book” were beginning to cohere although their clearly not knowing quite what to expect confers an engaging freshness.

The piece is set (without the tedious framing device) in a modern-ish environment – with 21st Century clothes and food served in a Pret bag – on a bare stage with audience on two sides. You sense that the lack of blocking and there’s rather a lot of standing around when a bit of stage business wouldn’t come amiss. On the other hand each of these actors is sufficiently skilled and engaging that they carry most of the play off simply on the power of personality. There’s a lot of nicely differentiated doubling. And all things considered it zips along at a surprising brisk base so the interest rarely dips.

We start with Petruchio (Matt Williams) looking for a rich wife and deciding to take on, and “tame,” the challenging Katherina (Helen Rose-Hampton) for reasons of his own. Eventually, of course, it’s ‘Kiss me Kate’, unexpected mutual falling in love and a private deal so that he wins his wager against the other men.

Williams is splendid as the dictatorial chauvinistic Petruchio. He shifts adeptly between fortissimo tyranny and dangerously, pretended, calculated gentle pleading. And his falconry soliloquy which makes his full intentions clear is pretty chilling. Williams makes the character charismatically entertaining but, my goodness, you wouldn’t, really wouldn’t. want him in your life.

Rose-Hampton finds an appealing vulnerability in Katherina. Yes she’s feisty and bitterly angry at the way her younger sister Bianca (Nell Bradbury) is always favoured but she’s also hurt and troubled and Rose-Hampton never lets us forget that.

Nell Bradbury turns in a lovely performance as Bianca – actually quite spiteful with a wonderful repertoire of dirty looks and smouldering rage when she’s not flirting. Also noteworthy are Jonathan McGarrity’s urbane Hortensio, Alexandra Kataigida’s knowing, simpering Widow and Linda Mathis as a sexy, laid back Vincentio.

Because these actors don’t know each other’s parts they often forget their own – that’s part of how Shake-Scene works so they call “line” to Conrad Hughes who prompts them. It’s quite an entertaining device that they do this firmly in character or in the tone of the moment so that the prompts almost become an integrated part of the play.

The review was first published by Sardines

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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