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A CurtainUp London Review
The Taming of the Shrew
by Lizzie Loveridge
Petruchio (Jasper Britton) is seen as a man suffering from the loss of his father and sadly in need of affectionate companionship as well as fortune. Katherine (Alexandra Gilbreath) is the victim of sibling rivalry, her pretty sister, the manipulative, "butter wouldn't melt" Bianca (Eve Myles) who monopolises both the available suitors and the affection of their father. In this play there is a happy ending as Katherine and Petruchio fall in love with each other. Katherine's final speech becomes an affirmation of this love, an understanding of the rules of this erotic game in giving her husband what he wants most. Petruchio even throws away the wagers he has won from the other men whose wives have proved less understanding of this delicious game. The point being that he is not really interested in winning the money, nor her dowry, but the heart and mind of Katherine.
Seventeenth century music and bustle, with church bells and commotion recreate the Italian town that is Padua. Stephen Brimson Lewis' set is filled with old wooden doors, with peeling paint, some suspended above the stage and with a wooden gallery for the musicians as in the Swan Theatre. These doors are first used for Katherine to bang shut in temper, making her displeasure felt. Some scenes are directly reproduced from Renaissance paintings with the accountants in black caps and cloaks working away at an abacus.
The entrance of Petruchio with curly haired Jasper Britton (bearing a striking resemblance to Gene Wilder) has him so much larger than life than we actually feel sorry for Katherine, not him, until he talks about the death of his father and softens. When he courts her, Petruchio starts to make Katherine laugh. He tickles her feet mercilessly and we see that she is actually enjoying being with him. She loves the attention. I liked the visual asides Katherine plays to the audience, as unseen by Petruchio. She shows the rage she feels about his orders but which she mustn't show to him. This lets the audience in on the game she is playing with him. When first invited to kiss him she sinks her teeth into his hand hard and then gnashes at every other man onstage.
This production is so full of period atmosphere and energy with excellent, comic performances from the ensemble that the audience is carried along at a fair pace. The whole is a vivacious model of directorial invention. Jasper Britton and Alexandra Gilbreath make a convincing and sympathetic couple. They warmly involve the audience in their romance and in their hands, The Taming of the Shrew becomes a feel good comedy. Gilbreath shows Katherine's obvious unhappiness in the early scenes as she looks unkempt, her hair stringy, her complexion pale, her nose red, maybe from crying. In her final scene wearing the new cap but an old coat, having taken Petruchio's words about outward appearances to heart, she radiates joy and purpose.
This is as good as any Shrew I remember and is a must see.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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