Shakespeare in the sunshine – The Taming of the Shrew

What wonderful weather we’ve been having! Perfect for a spot of Shakespeare in the sunshine. It’s that time of year again when the Globe Theatre on tour visits Portsmouth to put on a show in the City Museum Gardens, in association with our very own New Theatre Royal. As usual, they didn’t disappoint…

Enjoying Shakespeare in the sun

An all-female cast seemed an interesting and ironic choice for a play whose patriarchal tones often challenge a modern audience. I have always struggled with this play. Brilliantly written and highly entertaining, it is nonetheless the story of a woman’s submission to her husband. I’ve never known quite how to take Katherina’s speech where she submits to Petruchio. Is she playing a game, or is it truly how she feels?

Using an all-female cast gave the performance an extra edge – seeing Petruchio beating down Katherina’s resolve when played by a man, it is easy to feel angry at him, and associate this anger with the fact that he is a man, the historical oppressor of women. But when Petruchio is played by a woman, this raises the notion that the abuse Katherina suffers could be inflicted as easily by a woman as by a man. It had an almost cannibalistic feel, the woman turning on her own kind.

However, one wonderful element to this production was the fact that you completely forgot these were women playing men. A brilliant and beautiful Leah Whitaker strode around with an air of arrogance as Petruchio, and it wasn’t long before you simply forgot she wasn’t a man, striking looks aside. Right from her first strut onto the stage, all long leather coat and clompy boots, she fostered an essence of testosterone and masculinity that I’m sure one would be hard pressed to find if they met her out of character.

Strong performances all round

A particularly memorable Kathryn Hunt gave a strong performance as Baptista Minola, perfectly capturing the intricate mix of self-assuredness and growing confusion and exasperation he feels towards his situation as father of such an unruly daughter. She was equally brilliant, and charmingly hilarious, as Grumio, and at all times seemed to have a wonderful command of Shakespeare’s language. Not one utterance seemed strained or unnatural.

Joy Richardson also played a male part convincingly and with admirable gusto. Her Gremio seemed to at times creep and others skip across the stage – an excellent use of the body to convey character and emotion.

The infamous speech where Katherina submits to Petruchio’s rule over her had the audience silent and transfixed. Not an eye wandered from the outstanding Kate Lamb, as silent tears rolled down her Katherina’s face. You felt drawn into her performance, into her resignation, and I felt tears on my own cheeks responding to hers.

Last summer I had the pleasure of seeing The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre, and the Katherina there, played by Samantha Spiro, was much more feisty, rather than simply angry. This was something I missed in Lamb’s performance, but as the play went on I realised this was a more sensitive performance. Both Katherinas were equally valid interpretations, and both brought something to the part that made it enjoyable for the audience to watch.

A perfect Saturday afternoon

There wasn’t a weak link in this performance – staging was excellent, costume was fitting and diverse, helping to build on each character’s traits in subtle, or in Petruchio’s case, not so subtle, ways. As is the company’s custom, most of the actors played several parts, and a range of dialects were excellently employed to easily define one character from another.

Live music and songs with the odd bit of dancing added an element of fun to the whole thing, and put a smile on the sea of faces sitting in the sun watching.

Diction was clear and the storytelling coherent to the point that my boyfriend, who has sat through many a Shakespeare performance for my benefit, said he understood the whole thing perfectly, and it was in fact the most enjoyable Shakespeare performance he’s ever been to. Kudos to director Joe Murphy for pulling together such an amazing performance from a wonderfully talented cast.

The weather was perfect, the company excellent and the performance a delight. If only every Saturday afternoon could be spent this way!

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3 thoughts on “Shakespeare in the sunshine – The Taming of the Shrew

  1. This sounds excellent! I’m intrigued by the all-female cast, which definitely puts a spin on Petruchio’s more misogynistic qualities. You mention Whitaker strutting the stage, owning the male part. If you liked this take on Taming, you should check out Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, which switches the positioning of Petruchio and Kate. I saw it performed by the RSC about ten years ago, and it was SO GOOD.

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