Rough Magic for Pete and Kate

Richard Lutz sits down to see a play that still gets them hot under the collar 4 centuries on

The Taming of the Shrew
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

The Taming of the Shrew is one of those Shakespeare plays that enrages people still today.

How can it sit comfortably when a guy (Petruchio) bullies, pesters, harangues and flings around a feisty women to the point of insanity until she basically crumbles and obeys?

The fact is the play is actually about a broken drunk (Christopher Sly) who probably dreams it all up as part of a nasty joke played upon him as he lies comatose in the street. And that puts it into a different context. But doesn’t make it any less  awkward.

In the new RSC run, this is a play that is placed in a bawdy, rough, lewd, lavatorial world (Kate empties her bladder on stage just to annoy her heavy duty suitor). And that heavy duty suitor, Petruchio, is a masochistic thug. When the two of them get together it might as well be any English High Street on a Friday night about 11.30 when the pubs roll out.

So, it’s not a sympathetic world.  Lisa Dillon play the female lead as a borderline drunken psycho- unattractive, snarling and unkind. David Caves is a huge musclebound chunk of flesh who cynically toys with her with no passion, wit nor sexual chemistry. It is hard, visceral and unattractive .

But as a play it does stand up if, in fact, it all takes place in the inebriated mind of the Sly character who is a walking beergut  made to believe he is landed gentry being entertained by travelling players. So, you are watching a drunk watch a play and that play may be how he sees sexual politics back in the day- unpleasant, drowning in nasty violent slobbering inebriation (played so well by actor Nick Holder) and..well, not too nice to look at.

The set by Ruth Sutcliffe is likened to a huge marital bed and it gets a lot of mileage out of couples rooting around under what resembles a tennis court-sized duvet. The multi layered design, last used so well in Robin Hood, allows a lot of ribald fun with courting couples and pub jollity behind closed doors, opened shutters and a much used ramp. Gavin Fowler adds a comic touch as lovelorn Lucentio.

All in all a lot of rough magic…maybe a bit too rough around the edges in this hard boiled play

Tickets: 0844 800 1110
Until: 18th February in Stratford and then touring