The Tamer Tamed
RSC at the Newcastle Playhouse
Gregory Doran's production of The Tamer Tamed was intended to sit alongside its predecessor, Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Unfortunately the latter is not part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Newcastle season (I understand that its set and costumes are on the way to the US) so The Tamer Tamed has to be viewed as a stand-alone production.
To see it so does it no harm, but those who know the Shrew will enjoy it more. Petruchio's first wife, Katherine, whom he tamed in the Shakespeare play, is dead and he has remarried, to Maria (Alexandra Gilbreath), daughter of Petronius (David Horovitch), who has a reputation for being quiet and biddable. Encouraged by Bianca (Katherine's sister, played by Eve Myles), she determines to tame Petruchio (a lovely baffled performance by Jasper Britton), into which endeavour (spread wide, so as to include all husbands) she encourages her sister Livia (Naomi Frederick) and all the other women.
In a Lysistrata-like plot, she refuses her new husband his "conjugal rights" until he bends to her will and gives in to her demands ("As I expected," he says. "Freedom and clothes"!).
With subplots involving Gremio (Christopher Godwin), one of Bianca's former suitors now angling for the hand of Livia, Livia herself, and her preferred suitor Rowland (Daniel Brocklebank), the play rattles along at a good pace, enlived by excellent music from the group of seven musicians led by Michael Tubbs and energetic dance created by Michael Ashcroft.
The Playhouse is the right venue for it. The open stage suits this transfer from the Swan far better than the more tradional proscenium arch stage of the Theatre Royal would have done, and it did - in so far as it is possible - recreate the intimacy of the Stratford venue so that when the cast - and, in particular, Britton - address the audience directly, they are able to make close contact, even drawing in those at the back, something which simply would not have worked on the Theatre Royal stage.
It is a romp, full of energy and excellent performances, funny and enjoyable. It is also - dare I say it? - rather more accessible to the non-Shakespearean than the Bard himself. The language, for example, is much simpler, less dense and poetic, less clever and witty, than Shakespeare's. There is no equivalent of the wonderful clash between Petruchio and Katherine early in the Shrew, where puns and insults fly back and forth in a quick-fire exchange which leaves us breathless with admiration and laughter. Nor is there the sudden swings of mood, as when Petruchio tells Katherine that "will you, nil you" he will have her.
For probably 95% of the audience, myself included, this is a new play - or, at any rate, an unknown one - but it hit the spot and there was that wonderful buzz as we left the theatre, a sure sign of an audience which has been transported by what they have experienced. Gregory Doran has yet again - as he did with last year's Jacobean season - rescued a worthwhile play from obscurity to the delight of his audience.
Such a pity, then, that we didn't get to see the Shrew as well!
Steve Orme reviewed this production at the Swan in Stratford.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan