Taking on more transformations than Cinderella, the Lowry theatre sets the stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s gender swapping production of the Taming of the Shrew.
Justin Audibert’s direction plays with the 1590’s dated societal constructs that sees women traded for property and muzzled for speaking out. Sanitised through its reimagining, that styles the shrews as men and embeds the production with lovably abusive women, the Shakespeare story of social immobility and gender struggles is a difficult tale to progress.
In a world where women rule supreme and men run their mouths at the risk of being associated with the devil, the RSC’s take on Shakespeare’s problematic messaging can be forgiven for its tongue in cheek approach. The tone of Audibert’s production is far more frivolous, gathering its cast around in a gloriously immature collaboration of musical asides, impractical costumes and wit.
Shakespeare’s take on courtship follows the domineering Petruchia (Claire Price) and her talkative husband, Katherine’s (Joseph Arkley) tumultuous relationship. As Katherine’s mother attempts to have her married off before her younger brother, Bianco (James Cooney), Pertuchio takes it upon herself to tame Katharine using tortuous techniques that are assured to keep him obedient. With a large dowry on the line, Pertuchio’s methods that include keeping Katharine starved and sleep deprived until he submits are hard to stomach regardless of the gender inflicting the pain. At the same time suitors, Hortensia (Amelia Donkor), Gremia (Sophie Stanton) and Lucentia (Emily Johnstone) swarm Bianco in the hopes to take the already respectable man as their husband. With gifts, trickery and disguises afoot, the RSC interject memorable moments that keep the production refreshingly uplifting despite being honestly bonded to Shakespeare’s classic.
With an updated production that is carried by its fantastically animated female cast, the story that exposes the pre-packaged commodity of marriage places more spectacle onto the costumes, music and casting to improve on its message. While the story is carried by its piercing language and upgraded by the powerful casting, the production ultimately chooses to keep most conventions in place. Affirming that anyone too uppity must be shown their rightful place in society, the power imbalance between all involved remains intact.
Despite the show being flexible enough to change the gender roles, it remains stilted by Shakespeare’s constructs of marriage that sees a good taming as the only way to keep an honourable marriage. However, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s dramatic take on the 1590’s text is a wonderful transgression from the original play as its serves up the wicked wording by a sharp, diverse cast in an extremely animated and entertaining reboot.