Fringe review: Gender swapping and ginger beards in Taming of the Shrew, New Wimbledon Theatre Studio
Christopher Sly's (Christopher Neels) entrance onto the stage at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio is certainly a memorable one. He momentarily tricks the audience before going on to be tricked himself. When Sly wakes from a drunken stupor he is made to believe he is a wealthy nobleman for whom The Taming of the Shrew is being presented.
Neels is one of only four male actors in this gender inversion production which is the main reason I wanted to see it. Taming of the Shrew isn't a play I generally enjoy, it has always made me feel uncomfortable. The psychological and physical means used to subdue Kate in the play are cruel.
In this production Kate becomes Kajetano (Alexander McMorran) or K for short and is 'tamed' by Petruchia (Elizabeth Appleby). Bianca becomes Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Graham) a spoiled younger brother who can't marry until his brother is paired off.
Does having a woman subduing a man by the same means feel any less cruel? It shouldn't but there are certain lines which do sit a little better. In the final speech K gives it is the men that are admonished for offering war rather than peace and his call for men to love and honour their wives feel a little less like a call to be subservient.
As it turns out the sexual politics in swapping the genders is almost by the by, the production gets around the difficulties of K's treatment with heavy doses of farce and clowning, making it almost cartoon like. When K is being scolded for fighting with Bianco, Bianco feigns injury while his mother is looking, making rude gestures at his brother behind her back. It reminded me of my own childish battles with my brother and is very funny.
And then there are the ginger beard-wearing, minion-muppet-like household of Petruchia's. Dressed alike and sporting a variety of ginger beards and eyebrows they attempt to serve up dinner to their mistress's contrary orders. It is a scene of deliciously amusing invention, almost like a skit from The Muppet Show and brilliantly performed.
The production does occasionally border on chaos and sometimes there is so much going on it is a distraction from the narrative but I'm not sure that matters too much. It won't to be everyone taste but it made me laugh out loud and just about glossed over the problems I have with the play itself.
Performed with gusto and full of fun and frolicks The Taming of The Shrew is on at the New Wimbledon Studio until June 20 and is two hours and 20 minutes including an interval.