Friday, 22 June 2012

Troika Theatre's Taming of the Shrew, Oxford Castle Courtyard, Oxford.

The Taming of the Shrew's elements of cruelty and violence have become the subject of considerable controversy. With such a misogynist text and a vein of unremitting cruelty running through the play it begs the question of how a company can make this harsh feast palatable to an informed modern audience. Troika Theatre believes it can.

As with most contemporary readings, their production dispenses with the "drunken tinker" sub-plot (the "Induction" that sees the action as a fantasy, a play within a play) and dives straight in with the arrival of Lucentio (Ben Bateman) and his servant Tranio (Ashley Harvey). Such swiftness allows little time for moralizing or hand wringing and offers up a 'comedy'. We forget that we are watching a world dominated by greed and lust. If we had time to reflect, we would be enraged rather than amused by Petruchio's treatment of Katharina. 

As "bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst" Monica Nash takes a vigorous approach making the farcical sub plot of Bianca and her suitors look vapid in comparison. At the start, she may be unlikeable and sour but through an arresting performance, she grows on us.

Moreover, when she meets Petruchio, played with wit and cocksure insolence by Adam Potterton, we see she has met someone as unconventional as herself. Despite his objectifying of her, he offers an escape from her undeserving father, Baptista.

All this action is set in the "sixties" judging by the dress and the music. Sadly, in order to conform to this style it meant the axing of Biondella's comments on Petruchio's outrageous dress as he returns to Padua. Not for us "a new hat and an old jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turn'd" but slippers, silk pyjamas and dressing gown. Nevertheless, the minimal staging and period design worked and did not detract from the acting. In addition, I am glad to say the acoustics were good. A couple of years back in the same venue, I found myself straining to hear the nuances of a play's language. Had I not known the play I would have been completely baffled.

Finally, despite reservations about the validity and the moral tone of the play, I enjoyed this performance. Credit goes to all the cast and the Director (Rachel Johnson) for turning a work defined by George Bernard Shaw in 1897 as "altogether disgusting to modern sensibility" into a well-rounded and humorous drama.

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