13 February 2009

The Taming of the Shrew - Novello Theatre, Friday 13th February 2009


Lucentio and his servant Tranio (both from Paris) stroll while Lucentio ponders that he has come to Padua to pursue knowledge. Tranio points out that he should pursue pleasures, as well. Then, Baptista and his daughters Katherine (older, the shrew) and Bianca (younger) appear with Bianca's suitors Gremio and Hortensio. Baptista tells them they cannot pursue Bianca until Katherine is married. Privately, Gremio and Hortensio agree to find her a husband so they can both resume wooing Bianca. While looking on, Lucentio falls in love with Bianca. He decides to let his servant Tranio pretend to be Lucentio, so that Lucentio can be a school teacher to Bianca. Biondello (another servant of Lucentio) is told to act as a servant to Tranio. Petruchio of Verona arrives in Padua with his servant Grumio to see his friend Hortensio. Upon meeting, Hortensio mentions Katherine in passing and Petruchio vows to woo and marry her (for her large dowry). Hortensio then decides to pretend to be a school master and instruct Bianca in music. Gremio arrives with Lucentio (disguised as a school master, Cambio) and tells Hortensio of his plants to let Lucentio school Bianca and speak highly of Gremio. Tranio then arrives and announces that he (as Lucentio) will be a suitor to Bianca.

At Baptista's house, Petruchio arrives with Hortensio (as Litio) and Gremio arrives with Lucentio (as Cambio). Tranio (as Lucentio) is also there, proclaiming his suit for Bianca. Petruchio meets Kate and the two spar wits, making Petruchio more determined than ever to marry Kate, which he announces to all; they are to be married on Sunday, though Kate obviously protests. Baptista, upon hearing this, tells Tranio (as Lucentio) and Gremio that the one with the highest dowry will get Bianca.. Tranio bluffs to have more wealth and possessions than Gremio, but Baptista declares Lucentio's father Vincentio must personally assure he has the wealth and will give it to Lucentio.

At Bianca's room, Lucentio (as Cambio) and Hortensio (as Litio) school Bianca. Both reveal their intentions for her love, but they also begin to suspect the other of amorous intentions. On the wedding day, Petruchio arrives late, and is dressed in a fool's clothes. He acts irrationally at the wedding, then immediately leaves town with Kate. Baptista, although flabbergasted, is happy to be rid of her.

At Petruchio's country home, he and Kate arrive, exhausted from the journey, since, throughout, Petruchio has been giving Kate a taste of her own medicine. He continues to berate her and his servants continually. Back in Padua, Tranio and Hortensio spy on Lucentio (as Cambio) courting Bianca. Hortensio, in defeat/despair, swears with Tranio (as Lucentio) not to pursue Bianca anymore. In fact, Hortensio plans to marry a widow who has long loved him. Biondello then appears and tells Tranio and Lucentio he's found a man from Mantua (a Pedant) to impersonate Lucentio's father Vincentio. They trick him to do this by saying people from Mantua are despised in Padua. At Petruchio's house, he further tries to tame Kate by starving her, refusing her to have new clothes, and refusing to visit her father's house since she continues to disagree with him, even though both know he is wrong. Back at Padua, Tranio (as Lucentio) introduces the Pedant (as Vincentio) to Baptista, and all agree to sup together. Meanwhile, Biondello instructs Lucentio to bring Bianca to the church to be married. Elsewhere, Petruchio and Kate travel on the road to Padua where they meet the real Vincentio (Lucentio's Father). Petruchio has Kate so much under his control that he gets her to declare Vincentio is a female to his face, then to apologize and admit that he is truly a man. Petruchio informs Vincentio of his son's marriage
to Bianca, and all travel to Padua.

At Padua, Vincentio arrives and asks to see Baptista, though the Pedant (as Vincentio) and Tranio (as Lucentio) deny Vincentio is who he says he is and call for him to be arrested. Lucentio himself and Bianca arrive and set things straight, then announce that they've been married, causing Baptista and the real Vincentio to fume even more. At length, Baptista, Vincentio, and Lucentio come to agreement and all celebrate the three marriages: Petruchio and Kate, Lucentio and Bianca, and Hortensio and the widow. At supper, Petruchio wins a wager by demonstrating that Katherine is now more obedient than Bianca or the widow. He celebrates by saying, "Kiss me Kate," and they do.


Arsher Ali - 1st Huntsman
Jade Anouka - 4th Servant
Will Beck - Grumio
Stephen Boxer - Christopher Sly/Petruchio
Keir Charles - Tranio
John Paul Connolly - Tailor
Simon Darwen - 3rd Servant
Adrian Decosta - 2nd Huntsman
Leonard Fenton - Vincentio
James Garnon - Curtis
Amanda Hadingue - Lady/Widow
David Hargreaves - Baptista
Amara Karan - Bianca
Sean Kearns - Hortensio
Jack Laskey - Biondello
Patrick Moy - Lucentio
Will Sharpe - Bartholomew (Page)
Peter Shorey - Gremio
Larrington Walker - Pedant

From the Novello Theatre website: "Please note this production contains sexual references" What, Shakespeare? Sexual references? Really? Well, that's fucking disgraceful, if y0u ask me. I'm shocked to my middle class core. To think, for all those years, I've been reading or watching Shakespeare, only to find that its got sexual references in it.

Honestly, this got my hackles up even before I had seen the show. As if we need to be warned about this kind of thing. I suppose, in our litigatious times, the theatre management feel the need to cover themselves in case anyone is offended. Soon they'll be announcing "Please note this production contains scenes of gratuitous coffee-drinking. We in no way condone the drinking of hot coffee on health and safety grounds. In addition, coffee contains caffiene, which is a drug. It also contains sugar, which is bad for your health, and which used to be grown by slaves. Slavery was a BAD THING."

As the curtain went up, the floppy-haired fool in front of me leant forward in his seat, completely blocking my view of the stage. Retrospectively, I made a mistake by asking him to sit back - had he stayed leant forward I would have been spared the sight of this utter trash.

This production includes the prologue (called the Induction for some odd reason), which is usually omitted as its crap, totally gratuitous and doesnt fit with the rest of the story. For those of you unfamilar with it, it involves a chap called Christopher Sly, a drunk, who falls asleep after one pot of beer too many. A passing lady decides (for some reason never really explained) to trick him - she orders him carried home to her mansion, dressed in fine clothes and laid on a luxurious bed. When he wakes, he is treated like the lord of the manor, and convinced that his former life was, in fact, merely a dream. A troupe of strolling players arrive at the manor and proceed to act out a play - which turns out to be the play we know as The Taming of the Shrew, presented as a play within a play; however, as the "play" gets under way, Christopher Sly and all reference to the action of the Induction vanish and are never seen, heard of or referred to again. Would that this had happened this evening.

This Induction took place outside a seedy modern nightclub, with possibly the laziest and most incompetent pole dancer ever seen, who squirmed embarrassingly round her pole for all of 5 seconds. Sly's friends, lager louts to a man, wearing the kind of hats that straight men buy when they're completely wrecked (you know, ones that look like jester's hats or pints of Guinness with a furry shamrock stuck on the side) do a rugby-style chant and Sly then falls into a roadsweeper's cart and falls asleep. He's wheeled to the mansion, where a truck with "The Players" painted on the back in a typeface which bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the RSC logo backs onto the stage (licence plate XME K8, if you're interested) and disgorges a troupe of actors, who then proceed to dress in vaguely period costume and present "The Play". Christopher Sly sits on the side of the stage watching for a while, then bizarrely gets up, joins in the action and becomes Petruchio, shedding his impenetrable Mancunian accent yet managing to lose the power to project his voice and, seemingly, to act at all. Around him, the rest of "The Players" act out The Taming of the Shrew in a fashion bearing more resemblance to Carry On Shakespeare than the hallowed precints of the RSC. Oh, how witty, we think, - "The Players" are all really bad actors. But no, this goes deeper than that. The terrifying realisation sinks in that its the cast who are all really bad actors, and they think they can do Shakespeare. Not a single one of them are able to act their way out of a paper bag. They mug. They wave their hands about. They declaim. They stalk around the stage doing all three at the same time, making Frankie Howerd look like Johnny Gielgud. Very few of them can be heard properly. Quite a lot of them are so irritating that it comes as a relief to find that most of this production is set so far forward on the stage that, from our seats, nothing of the front 4 feet of the stage can be seen - with or without Mr. Floppy Hair in front who, incredibly, starts falling asleep after about 10 minutes, in that noddy-head-drooly kind of way that you see on the last train home on a Friday night. Even more incredibly, the chap in the seat to my right ALSO dozes off. I suddenly become acutely aware of the individual ticks of my watch as the drivel on stage progresses.

There are some cringeworthy attempts at humour - as if the first rule of Badly Directed Shakespeare is "If your direction is crap, some regional accents will make the audience laugh". One of the characters keeps his glasses on the whole time. In 17th century Padua? The text mentions a lute lesson - and then a character comes on stage holding a guitar. Hello? The famous fight between Petruchio and Katherine passes almost unnoticed. Then Katherine appears at the wedding wearing a 20th century wedding dress. Petruchio appears, his outlandish costume having been described at length prior to his arrival on stage. Strangely, what he is actually wearing bears no relation to this - he looks like a cross between Lucia di Lammamoor and Herne the Hunter as he's wearing a blood-spattered flouncy crinoline and a pair of antlers on his head. The expected (by the director) gales of laughter fail to materialise - there is simply a baffled silence from the audience. The end of the first half arrives so unexpectedly that the applause has to be prompted by clapping from backstage. Him Indoors looks at me. I look back. We gather our coats and scarves and leave the theatre, having decided that going home for a bowl of stewed pears in evaporated milk and the last episode of The Victorian Farm on BBC2 is preferable to staying for the second half of this tragic mess.

Reading the programme on the train during the escape (sorry - I should have said ""on the way home") reveals that, shockingly, Amara Karan, playing Bianca (a principal role and quite an important one at that) is making her professional debut in this production. That's appalling. To paraphrase Him Indoors "In my day, you had to do 20 years in Rep in the provinces before the RSC would even give you an audition - and even then you'd only be carrying a spear", yet this girl is playing a major role in Shakespeare with the RSC and its the first time she's ever appeared on a professional stage. I know that colourblind casting is all the rage these days, but is the director trying to make some sort of point by casting an Indian actress in the role of Bianca? Apparently, (according to reviews rather than my personal experience), another black actor in the cast plays his minor role with the kind of Jamaican accent usually utilised by the likes of Lenny Henry. Not funny, not necessary. Same actor then apparently (in one of this play's many, many tedious "mistaken identities" subplots), assumes the role of a caucasian actor's father. Huh? This determined policy of blindness is, in its way, as subtly racist as - well, Carol Thatcher.

Michelle Gomez, playing Katherine, has The Vagina Monologues as her principal stage experience. Perhaps this explains why she can't act for toffee, or be heard further back than row 4 of the stalls. But hey, at least she's been in Green Wing on the telly. Perhaps the fact that Tamsin Greig, also from Green Wing, won a gong (undeserved, in my opinion) for her portrayal of Beatrice for the RSC a couple of years back, inspired the casting director to try this tactic again in the hope of luring fans from their sofas into theatre seats - if so, its completely misguided. Will Sharpe, playing Bartholomew, doesn't appear to have had any formal theatrical training at all - but hey, he is "22 years old and graduated from Cambridge University where he studied Classics and was President of Footlights", so thats all right then. His "credits" encompass one play on BBC3 and something called WhamBham at Footlights..... where he happened to be President. Apparently he's also a stand-up comedian - from the look of his picture in the programme, the comedy element of his stand-up consists of people laughing at his stupid hair style. Getcheraircut, you 'orrible little man.

C'mon, RSC, what's going on here? Where are the professionals who have honed their craft for many years? In fact, where are the people who can actually perform Shakespeare? Or even act? And what does it say about directing standards at the RSC that this crud, critically lambasted while at Stratford upon Avon, gets a London season when they could have brought the David Tennant Loves Labours Lost and packed the place out for months, rather than leave the production languishing in the sticks?

The one thing I like about this production is the furniture. There are several pieces dotted about the stage that look like they were made by a very clever architectural designer - a classical domed basilica opens up and becomes a table, and its dome becomes a dish cover with a cake underneath. A chest of drawers opens out from a clocktower - when this trash finishes its run, I intend to have this in my living room its so beautiful. Backless stools are designed to resemble arcaded buildings, with arches connecting the legs. Even these beautiful bits of working scenery are misused and under-used, either left lying about the stage in odd corners or completely in the way of everything. The backdrop is a series of pivoting panels which, closed, feature a evocative panorama of the city. Opened individually, they provide extra exits from the stage (handy, I suppose, if you realise that the production you're in is so dreadful that you need to exit the stage in hurried shame).

And so, Ladies and Germs, the evening ends (half way through) with the sound of an exceedingly damp squib falling splat onto the stage, to the eternal discredit of Conall Morrison, the "Director" (who couldn't direct his own piss into a bucket if this production is anything to go by) and to the RSC for allowing this crud to get past the first rehearsal. It joins the Hall of Fame of productions that I've left at the interval for the sake of my mental health and a bowl of stewed pears with evaporated milk.


Anonymous said...

WOW! This was chillier than your previous review of the snow day in London! I was definitely having a better time at the Southwark Playhouse's Midsummer! To be honest, the resumes of the actors in this show looked way too good for the venue - they'd really been around the block! But that's fine for me, when it comes to actors, I prefer mine aged to fresh any day of the week. Let them hone their skills elsewhere - I want to watch good acting.

Boon said...

Thanks for the review... I am feeling rather shocked now, but I got these tickets through the A Night Less Ordinary scheme so they are free, so I will still be going but I know I will probably regret that I went even though I will be paying nothing.

Phillip said...

This review is more interested in its own sensation than in a proper critique of the production. Your words are very amusing but quite misleading. I enjoyed this interpretation of the play. Bianca turned in a decent performance. Indeed, the Bianca/Lucentio storyline complemented the particularly cruel relationship of Petruchio and Kate. I didn't like the "modern pay-off" at the end where all characters reverted to their Induction personas and "Kate" had the final say in spurning Sly. It is an interesting play. Worth seeing. To the end.

rtb said...

Oooh get you.

Look chum - my blog, my opinion. You dont have to agree with anything I write. In fact, it would be extremely boring if everybody did. We're all entitled to our own opinions.

But let's not be quite so up our own arse about it, shall we? My opinions on this production are shared by a number of the professional critics, so what I have to say isnt completely without merit. And if the review is written in my own particular style, there ain't nothing you can do about it, chutney. If you don't like my style, the door is over there.

Anonymous said...

I'm in this production.
It's interesting to read such a fulsome account of your bilious reaction to half of the show and I'm left wondering not only why you went to see it but why we bothered to rehearse and perform it for over a year. I assume that your life has been an uninterupted succession of worthwhile triumphs but I'm afraid your understanding of the theatre- and it's undeniable shortcomings- is rather more limited.
I hope things are alright at home- your blog is quite nasty.

rtb said...

ooooh vitriol.

Darling, if you are indeed in this production, then you should know that its generally considered extremely unprofessional to respond to reviews.

Why did we go to see it? Because a) we got cheap preview tickets and b) we didnt know it was going to be so bad.

Why did you bother to rehearse it and perform it for over a year? The work, perhaps? Or maybe the artistic integrity? The former has my vote.

My understanding of the theatre may be limited - I do only see about 40 shows a year after all, so what do I know? - but even I recognise crap when I see it.

NickiNoodles said...

I can't believe how utterly naive your review is. It completely fails to acknowledge the power of Shakespeare's language and the artful way this was dealt with on the stage. This is a dark and edgy interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew, admittedly not one of Shakespeare's best comedies, and one that tends to be out of fashion nowadays for the 'taming' of Kate. The cast and director tackled these obstacles admirably, leading you from bawdy farce down a distinctly dark and sinister road to a final scene that is truly shocking and unexpected.

You are led through Petruchio's systematic destruction of his new wife to somewhere incredibly dark and potent. Without spoiling too much for people who haven't seen it (such as the reviewer...) you are left watching something gruesome, and all the more shocking for the comedy that preceeds it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. I was warned by the staff beforehand that it was really 'edgy' and at first laughed this off, thinking that there was no possible way for The Taming to become modern and relevant. They accomplished this bravely and with gusto. I was particularly thrilled with the concept of using language as disguise, suggesting awareness of the power of the vocal performance, so often ignored by actors performing Shakespeare.

Michelle Gomez truly threw herself into the role, reflecting a Kate trapped in a world where she doesn't belong, her frustration boiling over into actual violence until she is 'broken' by the man who has vowed to honour and protect her. My only criticism of her performance was her accent - in a production so focussed on dialect as well as dialogue, it was often confusing to hear her speak in broken Scottish.

I found Bianca refreshing, if lacking a certain stage presence, and I feel that the colour of her dress, a loud, hot pink, often distracted us from what she was saying.

I also particularly enjoyed the role of the huntsman, played by a woman in this version who reminded me of a certain blonde from Dragon's Den... a definate force to be reckoned with.

Am going to leave it there for now, although I could go on. In future I would recommend the reviewer at least attempt to understand just how difficult it is to tackle Shakespearian comedy, to embrace innovation and appreciate the standard at which this company handled their task.


rtb said...

Someone else involved in the production, perhaps?

Why cannot people understand that the views expressed in my reviews are just my own personal opinions?

And as to understanding how diffcult Shakespeare's comedies are to perform - having been in two of them (albeit in amateur productions), I do actually know this.

Anonymous said...

ah, that explains it. you are a failed actor!

rtb said...

No, I just do it for the fun of it. That's what "amateur" means - coming from the latin "amore" - "from the heart".

Just because I dont get paid for doing it, doesn't mean that I'm "failed" - I never wanted to act professionally.

NickiNoodles said...

Am not in the cast - just went along last night and had a great time!


rtb said...

Well I'm glad you enjoyed it. I didn't. END OF STORY.

rtb said...

No further abusive comments will be published. If you have something constructive to say, say it.

If you can't cope with my criticism, then the answer is simple. The door is over there. Please use it, and don't bother coming again. If you can't conduct yourself in a mature fashion, your views are not welcome here. So go abuse someone else.

JohnnyFox said...

This was certainly an appropriate review for Friday 13th. "Shrew" is much better when turned in to 'Kiss Me Kate'. So much of Shakespeare's problem is he never had a decent musical collaborator.

Ironically and Wikipedia-allegedly it's the show that inspired a 7-year-old Ms Gomez to become an actress. It must have been a pretty crap production that toured her native Glasgow in 1978.

Disappointed to find La Gomez was not up to snuff. Although I liked her in Green Wing I do recognise she's a strange actress playing a strange character. And of course she's Mrs Jack Davenport which puts her into the Olympic class of strangeness.

rtb said...

The abusive messages continue. Two commenters' IP addresses have been sourced and a complaint is going to the Company Manager of the RSC quoting those comments allegedly left by a member of the cast.

I am also going to be migrating the blog shortly to another blogsite where commenters will have to supply their email address prior to leaving a comment. I refuse to be abused on my own blog by idiots who cannot understand that I have a right to hold an opinion that doesnt tally with their own.

In the meantime, can I suggest that said commenters direct their spleen towards:

www.whatsonstage.com: "I’m not sure every gag has to be laboured so hard and whether the frantic gurning is entirely necessary."

FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD, "Stone Age gender politics aside, the rest of this production is a tiresome grind."

SARAH HEMMING for THE FINANCIAL TIMES "Unilluminating and overly complicated."

DOMINIC MAXWELL for THE TIMES "Conall Morrison’s production, imported from Stratford, seeks to mock more than to explain. His characters cavort around the stage like caffeinated fifth-formers trying to prove that Shakespeare can be fun.

www.musicomh.com - "it does leave you wondering that, if Shakespeare's play needs bending to such an extent to render it watchable, is it one still worth performing. The frenetic clowning that here serves as an alternative to the playwright's bewildering intent may not be enough."

See? I'm not the only one who didn't like your grubby little show. There are plenty of people who get paid for their opinions ho didn't like it either.


rtb said...

Wouldn't it be hysterical if it turned out that it was the Director posting all these vicious comments? I just read about a show which appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008. This was a "promenade" show dealing with the Holocaust and, ultimately, freedom of expression. Two professional critics refused to play along with the director's wishes just to test out the overall strength of the production. As a result, they were stalked and verbally abused (and in one case actually assaulted by) the director, landing him with a police warning. So much for the idea of freedom of expression. Particularly if you use it to express things that certain other people can't cope with hearing. Ironic, eh?

Sean said...

"Christopher Sly and all reference to the action of the Induction vanish and are never seen, heard of or referred to again. Would that this had happened this evening."

This is slightly misleading, as the play ends referring back to the beginning, where we see Christopher Sly end up with nothing on the street floor while the van pulls away (after all the actors from the play snatch the scenery back up and jump back in it).

Just clarifying, I'm not criticising your opinion.


rtb said...

As I left at the interval, I really wouldnt know, would I?