Another week, another Shakespeare adaptation. It seems student directors cannot resist the urge to take on the Bard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the man and any week with him in it is a good week for student drama. Unfortunately, after several arresting adaptations of Shakespeare plays so far this year, this week’s offering feels a little bland.
Reverend Productions’ Tamings is a double-feature of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and its sequel, John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed. Katherina (the shrew) is a feisty, misunderstood young woman (or a heinous bitch, depending on how much of a feminist you are) forced into marriage with Petruchio. He is a domineering asshole (or a genius, depending on how much of a misogynist you are) and undergoes his taming of Katherina through physical and psychological pressure. In the sequel, set ten years later, Petruchio has remarried. His second wife Maria intends to beat Petruchio at his own game, vowing to tame the tamer.
The play is set in the 1950s and 1960s and this gives the play a social context in which we can understand the attitudes towards women present in the text. It makes sense, but it doesn’t do anything new. Compared with Shakespeare adaptations from previous weeks, in which the setting highlighted a central theme, heightened the tone or allowed for a shift in genre, Tamings appears mundane and unimaginative.
Some positives can be found among the cast. Ed Price stands out whenever on stage thanks to his controlled energy and expressive face. Alex Stutt plays two characters and showcases his talent by differentiating between them with some very simple but effective physicality. Ben Cohen plays the controversial Petruchio with a touch of comedy that makes it difficult to decide whether or not he is a villain. Despite the plainness of the adaptation, the production looks very pretty. The cast are an attractive bunch and Costume Manager Rosie Polya has done a lovely job with the 1950s outfits, most especially in dressing one actress rather convincingly as a man.
In the advertisement for Tamings, we are told that this production “reveals that ultimately, for both men and women, it is never easy to negotiate the power balance in love and marriage”. I think we all knew that already. Don’t go to Tamings if you are looking for something thought-provoking or innovative. Go if you like Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, and if you like the 1950s and ‘60s fashion. Or better yet, sit down and read the play while Mad Men is on in the background.
Two stars **