"Sixities Setting for Shakespeare's Shrew"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 04/10/14

Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew is a challenging play to present for modern audiences with its unfashionable storyline of the subjugation of a feisty young woman by her domineering husband. All the more surprising therefore that Immersion Theatre’s production at the Brockley Jack should set it in the 1960s: an era marked amongst other things for its liberalisation of women from their traditional roles.

The era was marked by the clothing through which the costume designer Rachel Cartilage had made great efforts to reflect the 60c styles , particularly in the haircuts and clothing of the female characters plus frequent use of 1960s pop songs. The set was dominated by a facsimile of a brick wall with a window, well used at various points, a rather strangely shaped mural portraying Roy Lichtenstein style paintings and a heart-shaped lighting effect lit up from time to time. Other set dressing consisted of detritus of various types: wooden boxes, dustbins and a short length of fence. Only in Petruchio’s house was any attempt made to depict a 1960s style interior.

The characters and the dialogue were Shakespeare's except that Batista was played as a woman by Sophie Doherty: a portrayal which worked well . Lisa Lynn played Bianca her younger daughter , shy and dominated by her sister, but demonstrating a more independent and forward side in her romantic entanglements as would befit a 1960s teenager. Her love tryst behind the window, out of sight but most definitely not out of earshot, with Lucentio (Clive Keene) was one of the more comic moments in production. Rochelle Parry as Katherine looked the part of the spoiled brat in her shapeless T-shirt and jeans. A more scathing tone to her dialogue would have enhanced the role as would have more genuine distress at her appalling treatment by Petruchio which would have better explained her transformation from shrew to devoted wife.
The 60s were again reflected in the character of Grumio (Liam Mulvey) as a Kray lookalike, complete with sideburns, and his violence particularly towards Katherine was genuinely shocking. The performance of the night though was undoubtedly James Clifford as Petruchio, alternatively charming and vile, his performance was smooth and assured and his diction excellent. Unfortunately Clifford had suffered a leg injury immediately prior to the performance and had to appear with a crutch. Both he and the rest of the cast are to be congratulated on the way in which they adapted their performances even using the crutch effectively at times in the production. Had I not been made aware of James's unfortunate accident I would have thought that the crutch was a deliberate production choice and not an inappropriate one!

The subplot around the various guises employed by the suitors of Bianca to get access to her is always confusing and in this production was not helped by some of the necessary doubling. In contrast the main story about the subjugation of Katherine was clear and few members of the audience would have had any difficulty in following it. Katherine's last speech is a difficult one for a modern production. Producers have a choice of delivering it straight or tongue in cheek. This production chose to deliver it sincerely although a more sarcastic tone might have been more appropriate for the anti-establishment 1960s.

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