The Taming of the Shrew, written by William Shakespeare is the story of a girl known as ‘the shrew’ merely because she stands up for herself and has a voice. That is, up until a man tames her to make her an obedient wife. It’s a play which is disturbing to the modern eye. It takes courage to stage the show in this century, especially after many ambitious directors have failed in their takes on the play, such as the Phyllida Llyod’s 2016 production.
In Shakespeare’s classic comedy, Lucentio (Will Peppercorn) falls in love with Bianca (Jessica Butcher) but cannot court her until her shrewish older sister Katherina (Anna Swinton) marries. Petruccio (Michael Hajiantonis) marries Kate and tames her with various psychological tortures until she becomes an ‘ideal’ wife. As the result of Kate’s marriage, Lucentio gets to marry Bianca and, in a contest at the end, Petruccio proves that he has made an obedient wife out of the shrew.
In the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s production, the decor, costumes, music and lighting complement each other perfectly, adding a timelessness and tension to the play. Director Tilly Botsford’s depiction of Petruccio as a villain and Kate as a slave is ingenious. Unfortunately, the play has some problems acting-wise. Throughout the play, it is possible to see that there is a certain imbalance between the actors who fulfil their potential and the actors who underplay.
The highlight of the play is Swinton’s performance as Kate — she makes a great shrew. She comes onto the stage and the mischief on her face is truly visible. However, when she has to show an emotion other than hatred or anger, her performance is lacking. For example, in her first scene with Hajiantonis, her performance seems to lack emotion, alongside her underplaying of two genuinely iconic monologues which normally would be full of emotion. An exception to this is her last monologue with which she concludes the play with a heartbreaking portrayal of agony.
Another success of the play is Hajiantonis’ excellent storytelling. He captures the audience with his well-played ruthlessness. However, he too manages to underplay one of the most affecting scenes in the play, in which he tells the audience how he intends to tame the shrew. The scene is so underplayed that it is no longer disturbing.
In contrast, the performances of Peppercorn, Levi Mattey as Tranio, Lizzie Lewis as Grumio, Callum Pope as Biondello and Camilla Makhmudi as the pedant warm the hearts of the audience and manage to put an idiotic grin on everyone’s face whenever they are on stage. All their flexible emotions and natural performances make EUSC’s production worth seeing several times.
With the misogyny underpinning its comedy, it is a brave choice to put The Taming of the Shrew on stage. It is safe to say that EUSC has done a good job emphasising the “injustice” and finding the balance between the comic sub-plot and the alarming main plot.
The Taming of the Shrew
Playing until Saturday 16th
Image: Maia Walcott