The Taming of The Shrew – 2009
Director Richard Brown
For many, the thought of The Taming of the Shrew conjures up memories of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor transferring their controversial personal relationship onto the silver screen in Zeffirelli’s majestic film version of the play. We understood that they lived their lives on the edge, so why not use that as the basis of the production: life imitating art or perhaps the other way around. And why not; except that the more cynical (perish the thought that any of you would be so!) might conclude that this was a gift too good to be true for the publicity department, that the relationship was more manufactured to sell papers than true. Who knows.
If such a thought were true and the real Burton/Taylor story was not as we were given to believe, then Shakespeare probably had the last laugh, for this is exactly what happens in this delightful, brash and audacious play. Things just ain’t what they seem to be. It’s a good thing really. Not that it would have particularly bothered Shakespeare’s own audience, despite the fact that they were governed by Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, the symbol of all that was good and powerful in female form. Stripped down to its simplest, this play is about a man overpowering a women through physical and psychological torture until she bends to his every wish and is putty in his hands. If that were so I would strongly advise you to gather your things now (assuming you are reading this before the play starts), smile politely at the Front-of-House staff and beetle off home as fast as you can.
But please don’t, because that is not what it is about. Uniquely for Shakespeare this is a play-within-a-play. It is a “kind of history” as one actor tries awkwardly to describe it, played to a gullible tramp, Sly, who has just been conned by a group of actors into thinking he is actually a powerful and rich lord with a beautiful wife at his side. And what is presented to him goes on in much the same fashion: in order to court the beautiful Bianca, two would-be lovers have to pretend to be schoolmasters, a servant has to pretend to be a wealthy nobleman, a terrified merchant has to pretend to be someone’s father. In order to court the other more terrifying daughter, a dissolute chancer has to pretend to fall instantly in love with her, to be everything her parents want him to be. During the course of the action, weddings become disasters, suns become moons (or is it the other way round), old men become “budding virgins” and so on. It’s all a trick, in modern terms all a “con”. People are what they need to seem to be to achieve their ends.
Looked at this way, we are treated to a somewhat exaggerated and comic form of what life really is like. Perhaps we all adopt roles, perform parts in order to make others believe we are what we aren’t. Perhaps Bianca is not such a sweet obedient daughter, perhaps Katharina is not the frightening man-hater she seems to be, perhaps Petruchio is more bluster than tyrant, perhaps the compliant Kate of the end of the play is in fact someone who has just had a crash course in conning her audience, married to a husband of similar devious mind, ready to step out into the world as a great double act: a rich nobleman and his wife if that is what they choose to be, or perhaps ambassadors from darkest Muscovy ready to sweet-talk someone out of their fortune. Maybe, just maybe, if the cinema had been invented, Petruchio and Katharina would have ended up film stars, like Burton and Taylor. Who knows.
TTOTS 2009 web programme
PETRUCHIO Guy Holmes
KATHARINA Caroline Harbord
LUCENTIO Ben Noad
BIANCA Sarah Ward
BAPTISTA Derrick Scothern
PHILEMA Cathy McCluskey
HORTENSIO Chris Turner
GRUMIO Guy Marshall
TRANIO Chris Topham
GREMIO Phil Cox
BIONDELLO Sarah Dalley
VINCENTIO Chris Rogers
MERCHANT Mark Hebert
WIDOW / HABERDASHER Caroline Lewis
TAILOR / SERVANT Jen Spencer
CURTIS Kevin Webb
SERVANT / ANNOUNCER Emma Hammond
PHILIP Phil Green
NATHANIEL / OFFICER Ray Livermore
DIRECTOR Richard Brown
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Jacquie Spencer
DESIGNER Jim Brown
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR Kevin Connor
STAGE MANAGER Katie Hammond
PRODUCTION CO-ORDINATORS Daisy Duehmke and Richard Morley
MUSIC Ruth Bramley, Mike Milne and Roy Bellass
WARDROBE Jo Fradley, Gretta Tamlyn and Helen Arnett
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER Richard Morley
LIGHTING / SOUND Adrian Wadey, Stephen Reed, Roger Blackmore
PROPERTIES Smiley Mildwater and Cherry Mildwater
CONTINUITY Caryl Jones and Sarah Boon
MAKE-UP Hannah Curtis, Roz Brown and Daisy Duehmke
CONSTRUCTION & BACKSTAGE Kevin Connor, Jim Brown, Kelly Whitworth, Chas Riddell, Ken McCollin, Richard Morley and Bob Pugh
FRONT OF HOUSE Trish James and team
BOX OFFICE Cheryl and Michael Cook and team
POSTER DESIGN Trevor Bass at Ken Girvan Printers Ltd.
CAST PHOTOGRAPHS Antonia Brown
PROGRAMME DESIGN Peter Brown in conjunction with Ken Girvan Printers Ltd.