The Taming of the Shrew kicks off the “Love in a Time of War” series at New Wimbledon Studio. Bored of the evergreen Shakespeare? Do not give this one a miss because of that – certain to give every play a yet unseen twist, Arrows & Traps will deliver a truly fresh take on the Bard.
Bianco is the object of affection of many a single gentlewoman in Padua. Unfortunately his mother Baptista forbids him to marry until the older brother, Kajetano, has found a lover. A dooming rule, since Kajetano is violent, quarrelsome and mean to the core. Enter Petruchia who recently inherited all her mother’s riches and has set her mind on finding a husband. Bianco’s suitors convince her that Kajetano is just the man she needs, while they plot cunning plans to get closer to their beloved Bianco themselves. If this sounds familiar but somewhat confusing it is so because this theatre troop has swapped the genders of the Shakespearean characters. The stage is populated with headstrong, powerful women, throwing shade and fighting private wars. The men become mere pawns in the women’s lusty plans.
Taming of the Shrew is an outrageous “play within a play” where one joke chases the next and the amount of slapstick cannot be conveyed in words. Sometimes there is so much going on in the fore- and background, it is hard to decide which molested servant to focus on. Just before the silliness threatens to become too much, the cast bursts into the heartfelt songs of the master of depression, Damien Rice. The powerful crescendo of these songs adds emotions to the characters they would otherwise lack, and produces sympathy for even the most unlikeable characters.
With all that mayhem on stage, the straight and authentic performances of Elizabeth Appleby and Alexander McMorran are very welcome. They have the arduous task of making the audience believe they fall in love through quite extreme abuse and torture of one another, but they pull it off convincingly. Sadly, the brilliant Christopher Neels is reduced to sitting next to the stage most of the time, but his act as drunken fool leads to one of the best openings of a performance in theatre. With too many actors to discuss, it should be noted that the players truly work as a team and perform in support of each other.
Director Ross McGregor, who also adapted this play, manages to modernise Shakespeare through violently breaking through the 4th wall into the 21st century, modern music and updated costumes (1920s style) while at the same time bringing it back to its roots: Shakespeare as mainstream, hilarious slapstick-fuelled fun that even appeals to fools.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Zoltan Almasi
The Taming of the Shrew is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio until 20 June 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets