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Brighton Fringe 2013

The Taming of the Shrew

Festival Shakespeare Company

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare

Venue: St Anne’s Well Gardens


Low Down

This is a must see production, unfailingly funny and well wrought, thoroughly entertaining throughout. 


 Outdoor Shakespeare in May often demands blankets, warm coats, thermals, hats, umbrellas and endurance, and even predation and disturbance from park drunks – but the space, spring leaves and gentle green of St Anne’s Wells’ Gardens are a perfect setting for very physical boisterous interpretations, and this Taming of the Shrew was that and more.  It was a testament to the vigour and punch of this production that I saw no one leave at the interval, as it got colder and colder, and a few stray drops of rain splashed down, nor did anyone leave when a short but significant shower stopped the performance for five minutes, before they continued.

Festival Shakespeare Company (FSC) took the whole play, including the introduction that frames the play, where one Christopher Sly, a tinker, wakened from his drunken stupor and persuaded that he is a Lord who has been asleep for many years. To further this conceit, a play is performed before him – which is the Shrew itself.  Before the play commenced there was, ironically, a drunken tramp shouting over the wall of the gardens at the gathering audience, and reality met art when he stumbled into the playing area and accosted the woman announcing the play.  She called for security, men jumped up and manhandled him across the grass – the play had begun – it was a perfect start, there was a wonderful gap before you realised that it was all indeed part of the performance. It just got better from there – great physical humour in the hapless Sly bundled in a wheelchair, tipped over, fallen over – lots of slapstick.
Then the Shrew begins. The characters were very clearly defined, with accents and costumes and mannerisms. Shakespeare can be difficult to follow – the identity changes, the strange language but not in this production. One example. There’s a simple stage direction “[They exchange habits]” but the simple expedient of Lucentio’s servant Tranio being a young woman, and Lucentio excitedly ripping off both their clothes to further their plot to change identities was hilarious. Milked justifiably for all it was worth – Tranio sniffs disgustedly at the t-shirt she has to put on, the tall lanky Lucentio dons the smallest of white sailor shifts. This is not only good comedy and pace (which was sustained throughout) , but indelibly signals the swap for the audience.  I could cite many more moments of classic comedy – the disguised Hortensio with lute that Katerina has bust over his head, Petruchio’s outrageous costume.
There is of course, in this day and age, a difficulty with the Taming of the Shrew – even before today its misogyny was a problem, and a real challenge for the actress in portraying Katerina’s “taming”. FSC handle this well – Petruchio is wonderfully over the top, bursting with energy and confidence and Katerina, sour tempered and aggressive at the beginning, is tamed but not crushed: she begins the “thy husband is thy lord” speech with a well timed and hefty elbow to Petruchio’s ribs, that doubles him up, so we have balance portrayed rather than domination.  Which segues rather nicely into a song and dance finale, that celebrates the relationships rather than submission, a good ending, for a fabulously entertaining play.
Technically this was great Shakespeare too, ringing declamation of the language, clear and audible across the windy outdoor arena – we never had to strain to hear- and a good use of the space – a central square with four corridor like pathways marked out, that allowed the actors to experiment with their entrances, you could see them arriving at a distance and they made full use of this -a half shaved Sly being raced at breakneck speed in a wheelchair round the outer edges of the audience springs to mind.
So another 5* star show, from beginning to end. FSC injected so much creative comedy into this text – physical, mental, the costumes are appropriately hilarious, the jokes well played and unrushed – there is a lot of laughter from the audience throughout. A triumph of acting and production, continually entertaining – I make no apologies for giving this a rave review.