Farcical comedy may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, yet it is just what you will find at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio.
Theatre company Arrows & Traps have taken one of Shakespeare’s more controversial plays, in modern eyes, and restyled it into a performance which left me chuckling all the way home.
The main issue faced by performances of Taming, is that by today’s standards a play about a young woman being tormented into submission by an overbearing lover has all the comedy value of ringworm.
However this performance give the play new life by reversing the roles of the relationship, with a loutish Kajetano, played by Alexander McMorran, being subdued by a commandingly terrifying Petruchia (Elizabeth Appleby).
While Shakespearean cross-dressing is nothing new, the change in dynamic gives the play a wholly different meaning while highlighting how outdated the original seems to a modern audience.
The setup of the play within a play is handled with humour, with actor Christopher Neels disguised as a hobo careering through the audience before being restrained by the cast and forced into the role of Christopher Sly.
Within this framing device we are introduced to Madame Baptista (Cornelia Baumann) who has sworn not to let her charming and sensitive son Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) marry before finding a match for his boorish older brother Kajetano.
The performance does itself a great service by painting their Shrew as utterly undesirable yet wholly harmless.
He is the medieval version of the son any mother dreads, pushing 30 while still living at home in a room encrusted with unwashed clothes.
However the dominating presence of Petruchia promises to put an end to all that and, despite her questionable motives, Baptista is more than ready to hand him over.
It is in the second act that the taming truly sets in, with Petruchia taking control of all facets of Kajetano’s existence, while his occasional bursts of rebellion go ignored.
Where this play triumphs is the way that it manages to keep the uneasiness inherent with the original play and transfer it into this new setting.
Katherine’s speech at the end of the original play where she speaks of the need to be subservient to her husband is no less unpleasant when coming from beneath McMorran’s neatly pointed moustache.
The play shows that regardless of which way the gender balance goes, any relationship with this kind of power play is extremely unhealthy.
The performance effectively balances frantic slapstick, a scene with a gaggle of ginger chefs was a particular delight, with calmer more reflective scenes and a handful of unexpectedly beautiful musical numbers.
The cast were a joy to behold, with special mention going to Biondella, played by Pippa Caddick, who I would suggest going to see the performance solely for her madcap shenanigans.
The Taming of the Shrew is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre studio until Saturday June 20.
Pictures courtesy of Davor Torvarlaza/Arrows & Traps, with thanks