The Taming of the Shrew
Nuffield Theatre May 1993, Southhampton
Patrick Sandford's new production of The Taming of the Shrew seems set to challenge the play's status as a lovable light comedy. There is plenty of humour in it, but this imaginative rendition is also deliberately uncomfortable.
Louise Gold's Katherina is altogether a victim. She does not play up the traditional sharp-tongued wit in the first part, but is purely desperate and raving. This ensures that there is no room for the suspicion, generally encouraged, that Petruchio might genuinely like something about her fiery temperament. By the end, there is none of the usual complicity between her and Petruchio (played by Jason Connery). Petruchio's cruelty is played frankly enough to freeze the smile on anyone's lips, and it achieves not only a total transformation but also a total surrender. The final beatific speech about marriage, and the final kiss, are therefore positively grotesque. Bianca in this production (Rebecca Lacey) is infinitely wiser - sweetly and obediently she plays the field, and gets her man exactly where she wants him. Presumably, the idea is to scotch any notion (attributed to Michael Bogdanov in this programme) that Shakespeare was some kind of feminist. It does this convincingly enough to be very nasty.
At the same time, the play's farcical comedy was not forsaken. The often-omitted opening scene was played effectively for laughs, and the romping pace kept up well. If anything, the comedy improved as the nastiness increased, making this altogether an unpleasantly persuasive and genuinely comic production.