The Tamer Tamed
Can this really be the same Petruchio who treated Katherine so appallingly in a bid to make her love him? In John Fletcher's sequel to The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio's world is tuned upside down by his second wife Maria who barricades herself in her bedroom and refuses to let him in until he accedes to her demands.
In a poignant scene just before the interval, Jasper Britton, who reprises the role of Petruchio, tenderly turns to the audience for sympathy for his plight. He is baffled, even exasperated at his new wife's conduct and wonders what he has done to incur her wrath. Convincing, careworn and candid, Britton brilliantly portrays a shaken man who is unaccustomed to having to deal with this sort of behaviour.
Fletcher wrote The Tamer Tamed, also known as The Woman's Prize, about 20 years after the Bard had firmly put women in their place in The Shrew. Shakespeare must have given his seal of approval as shortly afterwards he collaborated with Fletcher on Henry VIII.
The RSC is performing the two plays together for the first time since 1633. Most of the cast of The Shrew appear in The Tamer Tamed, only this time it's staged in the Swan, a far more intimate space as it enables actors to interact with the audience and their facial expressions are clearly visible.
Gregory Doran again directs. He takes a whole new look at The Shrew and must also take credit for bringing The Tamer Tamed out of mothballs. It's a mystery why no one else thought to do it.
In the sequel Katherine has died. But Petruchio doesn't get the chance to exert his will on Maria. In a plot that takes its origins from Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Maria refuses to sleep with her husband until she has tamed him; she is more than a match for Petruchio.
Fletcher's language is not quite as involved as Shakespeare's. The plot is credible and the characters are just the same as they were in The Shrew. There are some wonderful lines, such as Petruchio's demanding of Maria: "Open the door and be obedient!" And when he finally discovers what she wants, he declares: "As I expected - liberty and clothes!"
Alexandra Gilbreath, who is excellent as Katherine, is just as good as Maria. Naomi Frederick, in her debut season with the RSC, is confident and assured as Livia, Maria's sister, who refuses to elope with Rowland and keeps him dangling on a string with lines including: "Alas, what fools you men are."
The Tamer Tamed is the play that all women should see, especially those who have a problem with The Shrew. In fact there are morals for both sexes to take on board in this play which hopefully won't return to the realms of obscurity. There were empty seats when I attended, which was a pity because this really is a play not to be missed.
"The Tamer Tamed" runs until November 8th
Reviewer: Steve Orme