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A CurtainUp Review
The Taming of The Shrew/Twelfth Night
Review of the London Production by Lizzie Loveridge
In Shrew the play is set in its Christopher Sly context, scenes often omitted in modern productions. The 1594 Quarto The Taming of a Shrewhas the fullest involvement of Christopher Sly (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), the tinker who is discovered by a party of rich men and who is treated like a lord when he wakes up as a joke. In the Folio, The Taming of the Shrew Sly’s part peters out but in the Quarto, he remains onstage throwing in asides. In Propeller’s version, Sly remains onstage and then takes on the part of Petruchio (again Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) with six pack stomach and thrusting pelvic moves. Petruchio never gives up Sly’s baseness of character and the battle between Petruchio and Katharine (Simon Scardifield) becomes one of wife beater and beaten wife, dark and deeply unpleasant.
When Katharine is called upon to make the speech at the end when she instructs her sister Bianca (Jon Trenchard) and Hortensio’s (Jack Tarlton) widow (Dominic Tighe) to obey their husbands, she mouths it as if she has learnt it by rote and believes not a word of what she is saying. I was interested too in the placing of the bet in the full presence of the three women. Normally they are off stage when the wager is laid as to who will return first to her husband’s bidding. Somehow, their all hearing what is at stake and still two of them deciding to ignore the call gives us the message that Bianca and the Widow may turn into worse shrews than Katharine. The famous line where Katharine talks about placing her hand beneath her husband’s foot has nothing other than the words here, no actual placing of her hand in submission.
There are other interesting observations to be made about Propeller’s work in Shrew. Bianca has none of the real beauty about her and so we are left with a portrait just of her simpering and manipulative flirtation as she locks herself in a wardrobe and sobs. Katharine is never allowed to change from the ripped and mud soaked garments she is wearing when she arrives at Petruchio’s house. She has to return to Padua for Bianca’s wedding feast still clad in these, humiliated for a second time in front of her family as Petruchio drives home his cruel victory in this battle of the sexes. While we can admire Katharine initially with her punky haircut, her short red minidress with striped stockings and her feisty physicality as she jumps up onto the top of wardrobes, at the end we have someone cowed and obviously unhappy. Gone are all those sexual frissons of a fun power play between a man who really loves his wife and is loved in return.
The design team work wonders with smoke and the mirrored doors of the wardrobes in creating Padua. Hortensio seems to have won Petruchio’s clothes with their eclectic mixture of pattern and colour and Petruchio’s wedding outfit is a leopardskin jockstrap topped by a fringed Davy Crockett frontiersman jacket.
By contrast, for me Twelfth Night did not seem to take on the same originality of interpretation. In an acting pairing tour de force, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart takes on the haughty Olivia, all height and shaved haircut with long satiny frock to cover his muscles and full length black gloves to pose with outstretched arms and kissable hands. Incongruous? Yes! Convincing? Not really. The cast who are not actually involved speaking onstage, creep around wearing face masks, always in shot, and watching the action from behind the grey painted wardrobes, like creepy animals or even the Phantoms in Rocky Horror. Why? I don’t know. I was so conscious of the tall, dominant figure of Olivia, even when she was not speaking in a scene I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
On the other hand, I loved Tam Williams’ sweet Viola who actually makes that extravagant switch work, a man playing a girl playing a boy. Chris Myles too was a no-nonsense Maria, and effective in the Belch scenes. Tony Bell’s Feste was languid and intelligent and I liked Jack Tarlton’s pleasant Orsino. The twins look enough alike to convince although Sebastian (Joe Flynn) and Olivia fail to persuade as a couple, they look ridiculous together. Simon Scardifield should be superb as Agucheek but the night I saw him, two press performances on one day may have taken their toll as he followed the gruelling and superbly played role of Katharine with the comic cameo of the sidekick knight. Malvolio (Bob Barrett) too has no new insight but I greatly enjoyed the setting of the garden scene with stylised triangular trees for the cronies to hide behind to spy on Malvolio’s reading of the forged letter.
The fight between Cesario and Agucheek is staged as a boxing match with the cast holding a rope square to contain the action. Propeller’s reading of Twelfth Night will not offend school parties studying the text because the clarity of the way they speak the lines is second to none. But, for my money I was very irritated by Olivia’s preening, posing and camply simpering. Intriguingly, the most satisfying play here is the domestically violent Shrew.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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