The Taming of the Shrew at the Nottingham Playhouse, February-March 2002
Sheffield Hallam University
Hopkins, Chris. "Review of The Taming of the Shrew." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May, 2002): 13.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/08-1/shrewrev.htm>.
Directed by David Farr. Designed by Ti Green. Lighting by David W. Kidd. Sound by John Leonard and Scott George for Aura. With Coral Beed as Bianca, Nicholas Burns as Lucentio, Justin Butcher as Hortensio, Derek Crewe as the Pedant, Harold Finley as Biondello, Andrew French as Tranio, John Guerrasio as Baptista, David Partridge as Petruchio, Phillipa Peak as Kate, Roger Swaine as Gremio, Will Tacey as Curtis and Vincentio, Stephen Ventura as Grumio, and Kate-Alice Woodbridge as Baptista's Wife and the Widow.
This excellent production had many inventive features, of which the most distinctive were its setting in 1950s America, the omission of the induction and the addition of a new character, Baptista's wife (as well as a number of lines borrowed from Hamlet). The positive presences - the setting and the sole wife in the older generation - were deployed with real intelligence in a production that had a thoroughly thought-through sense of the play, delivered by a capable cast whose ensemble work was particularly strong.
Fifties America was evoked through sound by pre-curtain music and radio adverts (such as the Brylcreem ad warning against two dabs of the marvellous pomade lest the effect on women was too overwhelming), and followed up visually throughout by adverts incorporated in the set. Thus the house of Baptista (and daughters and wife) was represented as a doorway and upper window set in a skyscape that was sponsored in bottom left and top right corners by PanAm. Scenes set in the Minola family garden were bounded by a hedge-cum-hoarding which advertised the phosphate that puts the green in America's hedges, and the Bianca / pretended tutor scenes were played in front of a hoarding which presented a collage of adverts including that for the 'Real Pro' bra (conical shape guaranteed, one rather gathered) and for Barbie dolls (a reference also picked up in the superb costuming of Bianca as a fifties Barbie). The implications of these ads - that we are not born into natural or social roles but buy/are sold into them - were explored in many aspects of the production. Thus, if there was no Christopher Sly to Lord transformation/induction, a similar idea was interestingly presented through the casting of a black actor as Tranio (played with real style by Andrew French), who, given the chance, has no problem in taking over the role of the white Lucentio, a point gaining resonance from the fifties American setting and the use of Southern accents for Lucentio and his father(s).
A wife for Baptista might be expected to disrupt the way in which the play shows men continually disposing of subaltern women without consultation, but in fact this addition reinforces the point. For Baptista's nameless wife is a model: she is seen (fashionably dressed), but almost never speaks. Whatever Baptista says she smiles beatifically as if in fifties consumer heaven - until the wedding of Katherina and Petruchio that is, when after the couple have so unadvertisedly departed, her suppressed hysteria breaks out into embarrassingly endless laughter. The wedding photo captures her gagged by her husband and with no sign of long departed, un-ideal bride or groom. She is seen once more only - upending a bottle in the upper window before being dragged away. At the end, of course, Baptista's wife has to disappear, since Kate-Alice Woodbridge doubles Hortensio's Widow - but that is only appropriate: most characters in the play are roles, not individuals.
- The exceptions to this rule are, of course, Katherina and Petrucio (nicely played by Phillipa Peake and David Partridge). Katherina looked at her happiest at the party at the Minola's after her return from her nightmarish taming at Petrucio's house (a less convincing part of the production, since it abandoned fifties America for some general-purpose gothic no-place): here, still wearing her grubby, torn wedding dress and a cowboy hat, with her hair down, and drinking Jack Daniels out of the bottle, she and Petrucio seem to have escaped from squeaky clean social/consumer expectations. Alarmingly though, when Kate is sent away to fetch the errant conventional wives during Petrucio's wager, she returns in an exceptionally buttoned-up costume and hat and delivers the natural order speech with apparent conviction and utterly submissive affection for her husband. But, in a brilliant consummation of Petrucio's initial appearance in which he enters after crashing noises holding only the steering wheel of his automobile, there is a get-away clause. In a final scene, Kate strips off her constricting costume, and dressed only in her slip, she, Petrucio and the zany (and excellent) Grumio mime their escape in a reconstructed automobile, scattering the money they have just won behind them. Perhaps on the road, away from the fathers, the money, and the advertising, heterosexual bliss and partnership is still possible . . . (though the final sound of the play is another auto smash offstage).
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).