Gender swap for Taming of the Shrew at the RSC

Published: 1 March 2019
Reporter: Steve Orme

A gender-swapped version of The Taming of the Shrew, set in a 1590s matriarchal England in which women hold all the power, is to open in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford.

Justin Audibert, artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre, returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company to direct the play.

He said, “I was inspired by the novel The Power by Naomi Alderman where women become the dominant gender. At the moment, there’s an important conversation about gender and power and where that lies, and whenever you make a play you’re always influenced by what’s going on around you.

“I’m interested in seeing what happens when you get female actors to play traditionally powerful male roles and vice versa.”

The changes to the play have brought up interesting ideas in the rehearsal room. Audibert adds, “during rehearsals it’s been fascinating to see how things feel when, for example, a mother sells off her two sons, as opposed to in the traditional story when a father sells off his two daughters. Somehow we’re not shocked by the traditional version but when we see a mother selling her sons off, that feels transgressive. I wanted to see what it would feel like when the male voice isn’t the dominant one.”

The cast comprises Joseph Arkley (Katherine), Charlotte Arrowsmith (Curtis), Hannah Azuonye (Pedant), Melody Brown (Vicentia), Richard Clews (Grumio), James Cooney (Bianco), Amelia Donkor (Hortensia), Laura Elsworthy (Trania), Amanda Harris (Baptista), Emily Johnstone (Lucentia), Alex Jones (haberdasher), Alexander Mushore (servant), Michael Patrick (tailor), Claire Price (Petruchia), Sophie Stanton (Gremia), Aaron Thiara (servant of Petruchia), Amy Trigg (Biondella) and Leo Wan (widower).

The set is designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Costume designer is Hannah Clark and lighting is by Matt Peel. Music is composed by Ruth Chan, sound is by Claire Windsor and movement by Lucy Cullingford. Fights are by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

The Taming of the Shrew runs in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from Friday 8 March until Saturday 31 August. It will be broadcast live in cinemas on Wednesday 5 June. It tours to the Lowry, Salford, the Marlowe, Canterbury, Theatre Royal, Plymouth, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Newcastle Theatre Royal and the Grand Theatre, Blackpool until 4 April 2020.