Reviewed by local actor, John Fenner
This was a unique opportunity - to see William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew followed by John Fletcher's sequel, The Tamer Tamed, in the same day in two different spaces.
Artistic Director, Michael Boyd, said that Greg Doran has been thinking about how he might direct these two plays for a considerable time and, my goodness, it shows.
These are two cracking productions. On the day I went, the Shakespeare was playing in the afternoon and the Fletcher in the evening.
The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is nowadays regarded as a 'difficult' play because, in this feminist age, it is widely viewed as being offensive to women and it's difficult to dispute this.
But the play was written in another age, for a different society, in which values and beliefs were different. In its time I'm sure it was a romp and there is no reason, given the right style of production, it may not still be so now.
This, certainly, is the right style of production. It is set in the traditional Jacobean period, and Greg Doran doesn't miss a trick in eliciting every nuance of humour from the Bard's script. He draws wonderful comic invention from each member of his cast and the production goes at a cracking pace throughout.
Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis gives us a set of many doors in all shapes and sizes, which are cleverly used to create the various scenes.
...[the] actors received a highly positive and vociferous reaction from the audience at the curtain call... What a great show!
In a uniformly good cast, Alexandra Gilbreath and Jasper Britton were outstanding as Katherine and Petruchio.
My initial reaction to Gilbreath was that she seemed rather too slight and made to look too unattractive to be a convincing Shrew. I was wrong.
Her appearance successfully contrasted with the more conventional prettiness of her sister, Bianca, played with some delightful touches by Eve Myles. The strength of her performance belied her small physique which made her look even more pitiful when muddied and wet.
For me, Britton is just about the ideal Petruchio. His physique is perfect for the role, and he gave a big, bold performance with good vocal range, and consistently hit the mark.
Both actors received a highly positive and vociferous reaction from the audience at the curtain call.
Elsewhere, Paul Chahidi had a great presence as Hortensio and displayed some wonderfully funny body language in every scene.
Ian Gelder, Christopher Godwin and Daniel Hawksford were hard to fault as Baptista, Gremio and Lucentio respectively.
Rory Kinnear as Tranio created great amusement when, having swapped clothes with Lucentio, he tottered around the stage in his master's higher-heeled shoes.
What a great show!
The Tamer Tamed
The Swan theatre in Stratford
In The Tamer Tamed the same cast and production team are assembled on the projected stage of the Swan.
It has to be said that this play is a much less consequential piece than The Shrew, although, on this evidence, it is most definitely worth reviving, especially when both pieces can be played in tandem, as here.
One of the great things about The Shrew is the way the relationships between all of the characters are so well developed, not just that between Katherine and Petruchio.
This strength is much less evident in Fletcher's play and, with the exception of the two leads, we end up feeling less drawn in by and less interested in the characters.
The earlier theme of many doors is repeated here, but in a more subtle way, as befits the different space.
...it was a great theatrical experience and a great advertisement for the RSC. If this is an indication of things to come, then it could be quite a season. Kill for tickets!
Greg Doran's approach is also repeated - again he wrings every ounce of humour from the piece and achieves great comic invention with his cast.
The interaction of the characters with the audience at various times throughout the action was a particular success.
Once again, Jasper Britton, was superb as Petruchio, almost topping his own performance in The Shrew.
His soliloquy in which he addressed remarks to individual members of the audience was an outstanding success.
Alexandra Gilbreath has a very different character in Maria. She started off by seemingly walking with the same swagger that she displayed in the afternoon - right for Katherine but not for Maria.
Aside from this apparent blip, it was again a performance of considerable range and, once more, the reception for these two was vociferous.
The Hortensio of Paul Chahidi has less chance to shine in this play, but the actor again showed delightful touches whenever the opportunity arose.
Other strong performances came from Naomi Frederick as Livia, Christopher Godwin as Gremio, Eve Myles as Bianca, and Daniel Brocklebank as Rowland.
Mention must also be made of the brilliant song and dance routine (music by Paul Englishby) from the rebellious wives - a definite high-spot of the show.
All in all, it was a great theatrical experience and a great advertisement for the RSC. If this is an indication of things to come, then it could be quite a season. Kill for tickets!
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare will run at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford until 8 November 2003.
For ticket information and booking, follow the link to the RSC's website via the link on the left.