A gender-swapping production of Taming of the Shrew by the Royal Shakespeare Company made for uncomfortable viewing in between the laughs at London’s Barbican Theatre.
What may have been normal viewing for a 15th century audiences because women were not allowed on the professional stage, left a sour taste in the mouth as female actors stepped into traditional male roles to be the perpetrators of manipulations and subjugations to their sex in this classic tale of a man taming his shrewish wife.
Director Justin Audibert turned the patriarchy into a matriarchy that got laughs but also produced uneasy moments as the tension heightened between Katherine (played with depth and sensitivity by Joseph Arkley) and her bullying misogynistic suitor and husband, Petruchia, (played by Claire Price, who subtly negotiated the gradations in her character’s journey from bombast to devil). Credit goes to movement director Lucy Cullingford who through spatial relationships, eye contact and codes of dancing explored the tricky subtleties of power play between the genders, along with accepted mores and societal expectations. Actress Sophie Stanton stood out as a formidable comedienne and a joy to watch in the role of Gremia, suitor to Bianco.
Audibert’s interpretation comes at no better time as our gender role confusion gathers apace in the wake of the Me Too Movement. The production may have shed light on the issue but for me missed a chance to take it further. Two wrongs don’t make a right and instead of stepping into male tyrants’ shoes, perhaps it was an opportunity to show what unique attributes the fairer sex could bring to the party to show the opposite sex how to do it differently to forge the perfect marriage.
The production runs until January 18th, 2020.