The Taming of the Shrew
Guildford Shakespeare Company, in association with Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Guildford Castle Grounds
'Cultural Event of the Year' is the accolade which has been bestowed on this company more than once, and they're proud of the fact, but it may tend to give the wrong impression when their main aim is to make Shakespeare accessible to all and - above all - fun. They keep more or less to the original text, but I don't think Shakespeare was ever aware of Gucci Shades and, poking a little fun at today's 'celebrity culture', the lord Petruchio travels with his hairdresser - well, his servant with a comb, but it comes to the same thing.
Everyone knows the basic story of the shrewish Kate eventually 'tamed' by the cruelly overbearing methods of her husband Petruchio, but some may have been a little confused at the beginning as this company include the often omitted Prologue. A drunken tinker is persuaded that he is really a lord, watches the action of the play, and finally believes that he has been dreaming but he now knows how to tame a shrew. He soon finds out how very wrong he is!
"You have to be fit to live in Guildford," I panted, arriving at the venue out of breath after the climb up the hill, but it was well worth the effort when, seated under a spreading oak tree in this beautiful setting (enhanced by Charlotte Conquest's production which makes full use of the natural surroundings, including the ornate bandstand), I could watch this energetic band of dedicated thespians play out the story in a rumbustious, knock-about comedy style that takes the audience along with them to enjoy the fun.
The main battle is, of course, between Katherina and Petruchio, but sooner or later the whole company become involved, sometimes in true slapstick comedy style, and always with tremendous verve and enthusiasm. Even the two suitors of young sister Bianca - a very effete Hortensio (Alex Scott Fairley) and a distinguished Gremio (Michael Sheldon) - engage in a pantomime-style pie-throwing and Petruchio's household degenerates into a bun fight with poor starving Kate unable to get any food.
Tom Peters's Petruchio was a little too much 'pantomime pirate' for my liking, but his antics (especially with some large furry slippers) appealed especially to the children, and he could be serious too. His moment of contrite concern at the sight of a cold, miserable Kate caused him to put his jacket around her shoulders. It's a pity she threw if off in disgust.
Kate's father, Baptista is played by Simon Nock as an "I speak as I find" Yorkshireman - very appropriate in a man so concerned with money, and his adored daughter Bianca is very pretty Carly-Ann Clarke, almost a dress-up doll resplendent in her dainty crinoline wedding dress, and a marked contrast to sister Kate's reluctant bride - even more reluctant at the sight of her bridegroom's unconventional wedding attire
Sarah Gobran is Katherina, and she also has her share of the 'rough and tumble', but she plays the role straight and, although I cannot reconcile myself to Kate's speech defining the role of women, she performs it movingly, from the heart, and with conviction.
A lot of the comedy is supplied by Matt Pinches and Dani McCallum as Lucentio's servants. I adore Pinches - he always makes me laugh, intentionally or not. His swaggering demeanour as the sharp-suited stand-in for his master reminded me of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses and McCallum with her long blonde hair and elegantly fashionable suit adds to the humour as his assistant.
The show concludes by suddenly and unexpectedly turning into a dance routine which had me almost crying with laughter (choreography Aidan Treays), and the whole was so wholeheartedly applauded and cheered that they could easily have take several curtain calls. We had to make do with two and wend our way back down the hill - still smiling!
Until 27th June
Reviewer: Sheila Connor