Attic Door Theatre has made a characteristically bold move in staging a revival of Shakespeare’s highly controversial comedy The Taming of the Shrew, in 2018, the centenary of women’s suffrage.
The production is staged in promenade through the historic courtrooms and prisons of Lancaster Castle, A late Edwardian design evokes the change from Victorian to modern values. Ruth Gregson is a magnificent Baptista, a towering matriarch of the establishment, precisely spoken and tightly corseted. By contrast, Helen Burrow’s modern ‘shrew’ wore a long, loose gown and matched this with a poised determination and strength that Burrow brought out well. The conflict and the distance between mother and daughter was painfully clear as they faced each other from opposing witness boxes in Shire Hall at Lancaster, Petruchio siding with the outsider, Katherina, at the end of the wooing scene.
A growing affection between Katherina and Petruchio, based on risky, competitive, game playing, was deftly counterpointed in the production by the brutality of the taming school and the sheer forcefulness of Callum Wernyj’s ex-military Petruchio. Wernyj’s powerful vocal performance climaxed with an explosive blast of orders in Hadrian’s Tower, a venue where chains and scold’s bridles hung from the high stone walls. This inspired choice of setting and direction for the taming school emphasized the cruelty of starvation and lack of sleep that reduced Katherina to a wretched victim. The whole company’s talents in engaging with spectators produced much humour in contrast to the darkness of such scenes. James Bone’s Tranio and Ben Cooper-Muir’s Grumio both made excellent use of direct address, skilfully handling Shakespeare’s prose in their accounts of the off-stage wedding and journey to Petruchio’s house and Tom Fisher coupled beautifully articulated verse as Hortensio with a hilarious drag performance in disguise as Licio. Connor Gould captured the naïve innocence of Lucentio effectively through the verse and a series of shared looks and gestures with Bianca, while Harriet Johnstone’s performance brought out Bianca’s devious nature, including her ability to play the victim, well. Given the skill of all members of the company with the Shakespeare’s language, it was a shame that sections of the text were rewritten. Attic Door underestimated the communicative power of the text and its actors, and the audience’s ability to understand both.
Nevertheless, this was a provocative, engaging production which intelligently addressed historical and current issues of gender.
By Alison Findlay
Attic Door Production’s all new promenade production of The Taming of the Shrew runs until this Saturday, April 28.Book your tickets now at www.atticdoorproductions.co.uk or call 01524 419486.