It’s not difficult to see why Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew can be seen as overly misogynistic in its subject matter when we have both main female characters in the play, Katherina (known as Kate) and Bianca being controlled and possessed by men; firstly by their father and secondly by their husbands. Katherina’s final speech reads as an acceptance that the female form is weak and presents this as a justification for her being subject to her husband’s will.
However, the Richard Burton Company production, directed by Iqbal Khan, have somehow flipped this concerning projection on its head without changing a word of ‘that speech’. In this stunning production it is the strength of character given to Kate that wins our hearts and makes us see the errors of what is arguably presented in the text. Rather than justify or ignore the misogyny they confront it on a performative level whilst giving the audience autonomy over their reception of the events within.
The setting is full of references to Andy Warhol’s Manhattan studio, ‘The Factory’, including the roaming cameras capturing glimpses of the performance at unsuspecting angles and presented with some degree of obscurity above the seated area of the auditorium: typically Warholian, teasing the more rigid ‘Shakespeareans’ with a taste of postmodernity. The dress situates us firmly in the 1960s period of Warhol’s reign. It all works superbly well not least because of the timing aligning with the rise of the second-wave feminist movement.
There is a well-treaded tradition of adapting this play into a musical: most notably the Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. This production straddles between musical theatre, in the style of the rock musical Hair, and ‘a play with music’, which academics will tell you is something different. This is because the text is so lyrical in its rhythm, something that the company have utilized and challenged at times, quite sublimely.
The performances are all excellent without a weak link in the entire ensemble and it is this nature of the collaborative that is the strength of this production. There is a sense that everyone on stage is enjoying himself or herself allowing for moments of complicité to shine through creating a wonderful foundation for the duologues and monologues of the piece.
To say there are stand out performances would be unfair and inaccurate such is the high quality of the acting. There are moments however that will stick with me for some time to come. For example, when Seren Vickers delivers the aforementioned speech from Katherina with such awareness that every second was fresh and new resulting in an active breaking of the character before our eyes. Or, those fantastic comic moments from the supporting players of Anthony Boyle, George Naylor and Tim Preston; one of my favourites being the first scene change’s rhythmic wriggle from Naylor whilst he eyes the audience seductively concluding in a tap of his instrument: the triangle.
Rhys Whomsley, Betty Jane Walsh, and Connor Vickery were excellent in their playing of the subplot: the balance of secrecy and theatricality served a subtext that would rival any enigmatic Facebook status. Luke MacGregor was articulate and quick-witted as Petruchio and worked extremely with his sidekick Tim Preston (Grumio). Ross Ford, Jack Hammett and Santino Smith served as wonderful trio also which helped to frame the entire production contextually and performatively.
What Iqbal Khan has achieved with his enormously talented cast and crew strikes a cord in so many ways. It contributes to conversation in a diverse array of area from feminism to notions of meta-theatricality. Most of all it is an incredibly fun evening I urge you to experience.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Until December 8