Now I know why I have never seen The Taming of the Shrew – it is another of Will’s “problem plays”.
But problems can be surmounted as LAMDA demonstrated on Wednesday evening. They presented it in their new theatre that has sight lines, acoustics and seating superior to any traditional West End theatre. Of course all new buildings have teething problems that need tweaking and LAMDA is no exception. The bar by the Box Office is a long hike in the interval so they have inserted an additional bar behind the Stalls.
Now to the production. They set Tamers in a fashionable clothes shop with just a little nod to Are You Being Served? This was manifested when characters were surprised in the shop’s cupboards. To digress, an old friend of mine worked temporarily in a department store in Richmond. He returned from a holiday with a livid wound across his lithe torso, caused by somebody ripping a towel off from around his midriff when he was performing that delicate British ballet – even David Cameron knows the moves – that accompanies getting into and out of swimming trunks. He took a female member of staff somewhat senior to him, both in the company and in years, into a cupboard to remove his shirt and show her the damage. Of course like a proper Whitehall farce somebody opened the door unexpectedly.
You may well think that it is a ridiculous conceit to put Tamers in a shop but you’d be wrong. The whole production was an inverted gender-bender. The male characters were all played by women and the shrew and her sister by men. Apart from that tiny adjustment to Will’s play and omitting his introduction which would not have worked the way they did it, they played it straight; maybe they made a few cuts – running time only 2 1/2 hours including interval.
It was stylish, never rushed, always clearly enunciated and often very funny. The dark and moody shrew (Jordan Scowen*) showed great promise – maybe a future James Bond? His, eventual, submission to his husband would be intolerable to modern ears if he had been a she. Her husband’s bullying likewise if she had been a he.
As in many of Shakespeare’s plays there are vivid images of falconry. Here is Petruchio soliloquising on how he is taming Kate:
Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ’tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And, till she stoop, she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call.
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
(Act 4 Scene 1)
TH White, in The Goshawk, comments:
It was startling to read Shakespeare after a course of falconry. The Taming of the Shrew was pure hawk-mastery and must have been a play of enormous vividness to a generation which understood the falcon. It was as if a great dramatist of today were to write a play in which, by subjecting her to the applied laws of tennis, or golf, or cricket (or whatever footling theoretical game might be said to be the public favourite nowadays), a woman were brought under her husband’s government. Petruchio tamed his Kate as an austringer did his hawk, and he was conscious of the fact.
* He has a few skills:
Historical Dance, Ballroom, Flamenco
BGSC Level Four Specialisation [Longsword]: Examiner’s Gold Star BGSC Level Four Specialisation [Case Rapiers]: Examiner’s Gold Star. Football, Swimming, Cycling, Running, Clay Pigeon Shooting.