Last night we went to see the Crescent Theatre Company’s touring production of The Taming of the Shrew, at St Nicholas Place in King’s Norton (a fantastic venue). The Shrew is a controversial play, as I remember from studying it at school – the idea of “taming” a woman who is considered too wild for anyone to marry her, and her subsequent humiliation and final acquiesence is sometimes difficult for modern audiences to stomach.
However, the director, Dave Hill, opted to play an adapted version which removes what the programme describes as “the senseless ridiculing of Christopher Sly” as well as “some of the darker moments”. I have to admit I have some reservations about taking liberties with Shakespeare; some critics, for example, have suggested that the induction frames the play as somewhat farcical and not to be read as misogynistic as it might at first appear. However, having returned to the text today, the production didn’t remove as much as the programme suggested.
What the Crescent production did, however, is to raise it to the levels of sharp comedy that those who call misogyny on the play tend to forget. In this early play with the sparring relationship of Katherina and Petruccio we see the forerunners of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing, and this production brought that out well; Jo Mason and Mike Baughan play Katherina and Petruccio with lashings of confidence and a hint of irony (particularly in Katherina’s “how to be a good wife” monologue at the end) and with a sense that their relationship has, or at least will have, some love in it.
Moreover, the sharp wit of Katherina (honed, one suspects, on her annoyingly good sister) mixed with the banter of Petruccio, came across very well, and certainly reminded me how enjoyable Shakespeare’s quick-fire dialogue can be. In a delightful contrast to the lovesickness of Lucentio and Bianca, their fighting comes across as humorous and thoroughly enjoyable.
Though audiences are often uncomfortable with the notion of “taming” a wife, when set in context and played in such an appreciative manner, it becomes more a work of art and less an icon of political incorrectness. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was very impressed with the performance (and enjoyed the strawberries and cream in the interval!)