THE Royal Shakespeare Company’s welcome return tour to Plymouth brought three current productions – Measure for Measure, As You Like It and the gender-swapped The Taming of the Shrew – back to the south west.
The Justin Audibert production of The Shrew confounds expectations, set in a matriarchal Padua where Katherine and Bianco are the sons of Baptista Minola and Petruchia the recently orphaned daughter in search of a dowry to keep her solvent.
We have seen all-female productions of the play – notably at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003 with Janet McTeer as a roistering Petruchio and Linda Bassett as his servant Grumio. This is different, and often very, very funny.
Hannah Clarke’s sumptuous costumes, clever new music by Ruth Chan performed by the on-stage band and the cast-choir and some marvellous movement directed by Lucy Cullingford, make for a delightful production with many memorable moments and lots to think about.
My chief problem is that Joseph Arkley’s Katherine is about as passionately difficult as a metre of damp weed, moping about and occasionally throwing a very little hissy fit. It simply doesn’t make sense of the words.
Claire Price is charming, skittish and quite bonkers as Petruchia, with Laura Elsworthy as the over-enthusiastic Trania and James Conway as infuriatingly self centred a Bianco as Bianca ever was.
Perhaps the highlight is Sophie Stanton’s Gremia, a lascivious old woman who moves apparently on a Segway hoverboard under her skirts. And then, when she no longer needs to impress with her kittenish charms, stomps like a good’un.
It’s a joy to watch and listen to, but oh for a Katherine worthy of all Shakespeare wrote about her/him.