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Brighton Year-Round 2023

Low Down

A slowly evolving, involving reading. Alex Louise can certainly develop this to a full-scale production. She just needs to take care of the script’s truth, though it seems contradictory. Confidence and imagination will soon sort that.

Co-Directed and Produced by Joanna Rosenfeld, Co-directed by Alex Louise, Supported by and Costumes provided by Gladrags Community Costume Resource. Set pieces provided by IC Theatre Brighton and Duncan Henderson

Music arranged and performed by Katarina Henderson and Hardy Vafadari.

Next performance August 27th. Final performance of OFS in 2022, September 3rd .


And it’s … The Taming of the Shrew. They’re back. And they’re hungry. With a brave new world of chance, calculation and happenstance One Fell Swoop alights on St Nicholas Rest for its fourth season.

Scripts in hand, the actors have from Thursday night to Saturday to scan lines from a Shakespeare they’ve not been told about, do one rehearsal, then… unlocked. It’s a bit like Read Not Dead at the Globe: but edgier. Here fresh invention’s not yet dry, sticks like greasepaint; and Shakespeare’s still scribbling the last act in the wings.

One of today’s co-directors Joanna Rosenfeld developed with Conor Baum – who originated OFS in lockdown zoom – the project of performing all Shakespeare’s plays over several seasons. Here’s Season 4 and No. 16, and there’s well maybe another 24 to go if you include the late Double Falsehood (the ‘recovered’ Cardenio) and Edward III which Shakespeare wrote early on with Kyd.

Today’s other co-director is Alex Louise who’s brought a far darker, bleaker Shrew to light and is developing it here under OFS’s wings. It’s brave and necessary; the flavour can be of a workshop in the open air attended by people who are by now up for an experience like no other.

Comedies, especially commedia dell-arte-type plays like Shrew, need to be paced fast and furious. Louise’s emphasis is different, and it’s only at the very end the concept and sheer plangency kick in, not least to Katerina Henderson’s singing “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” and playing the violin, both exquisitely. This is suddenly heartbreak and tragedy. But only in the final moments of supplication and that speech can we learn the degree to which this Katerina is broken, gaslit, and terrified.

All texts have to be played to their truth: they can’t be evaded. Otherwise you kill a performance. So what happens when the truth of a speech kills the play? That in effect Shakespeare has sabotaged his own work with a volte-face that no-one feels comfortable with? That’s the paradox explored here, when each actor who tackles Katerina differently, takes on an access of sheer irony, violent sexual attraction, false supplication or as here broken-down terror. In a word speaks the most difficult speech in Shakespeare.

Rosenfeld taking the title part – and alone perhaps knew she was tackling it – produces the most singular Katerina I’ve ever seen. Only latterly does it become clear what she’s aiming at. Here the directors are trying to produce a teleological reading from the supplicatory finale. And if that final text’s not understood aright, the play collapses. We go away laughing perhaps, but feel it fails.

There’s also the question of patriarchy. Since the RSC’s 2019 Shrew, with gender reversals, it’s been common to cast either gender-reverse or gender-blind. The danger though is to diffuse the point of the play unless as with the RSC the rationale is fully developed. Here that patriarchy is sharpened by Louise and Rosenfeld: the horror of it, that literally Petruchio owns Katerina one married as “my property, my chattel”, is distinctly brought out here though. It’s important the power of patriarchy is felt, particularly in this production. With a mainly female cast, one normally to celebrate, the point’s a little diffused but not distracting. The point is to embody that patriarchal energy.

Here the process convinces us at last but the price is high. The tragic import of the directors’ concept is admirable, though the sheer comedic bravura, very close in texture and date to Comedy of Errors (around 1594), needs its head, as there’s so much servant humour and sub-plots that if we don’t celebrate them the play can fall flat. In a sense we do find the energy’s drained from the sheer comedic element.

However the most dense plotting revolves round Bianca (Seerché Deveraux) the younger sister who can’t be married till Katerina’s married off first. As sub-plots go it takes over the comedic energy, as the core relationship between Katerina and her real-life partner Duncan Henderson as Petruchio is one of progression and degradation, not, despite the high-jinks, strongly plotted.

And those sub-plots around Bianca provide the principle delight of the afternoon. Deveraux, the sweet compliant younger sister is in fact spirited and pointed, witty, charming and immediately taken by the suitor who’s wooing her.

This is the excellent Lucentio of Catie Ridewood who strikes up real chemistry with Deveraux, and spars warmly. There’s a truth too to Ridewood and an adroitness that makes her a fine addition to the troupe.

Lucentio is able to realise this chemistry as posing as a Latin teacher whilst sending servant Tranio (Moses Sedgley) in their place as the false Lucentio, leaving Lucentio ahead of the game. Instead of making love to the father, which Tranio can do ably enough, Lucentio can make real love and win Bianca.

Seddley is another reason this works so well. Initially in a non-speaking role, the fifteen-year-old Seddley’s stepped up and provides one of the great performances of the day. Gestural, quick-witted, including when his sheets blow away, Sedgley has all the truth and rationale of someone twice his age. His voice often projects well, and even when he’s fainter, you know that for a first performance, in a part even more quickly conned than that of his colleagues, and a baptism of fire in an outdoor performance, it’s a debut anyone would be proud of, even had they been Olivier.

The group’s completed by the excellent Hortensio of Katey Ann Fraser, the elderly suitor to Bianca who’s also playing the part of a musician continually derided by Lucentio. Fraser, who like Ridewood is leaving for rehearsal in the same London production, is a gem of comic clarity. One of the last remaining original members of 2020, Fraser’s grown as a true Shakespearean and cuts through with rationale, harrumph as a trounced suitor, and timing.

Sharon Drain’s avuncular bargain-making Baptista is as strong as you’d expect in the consummate Drain. There’s a sense of ceremony, dignity, and the bark of command modulated by someone used not to having to try too hard.

There’s strong work from the Gremio of Richard Waring, and clarity to his hapless suitor role. He’s rather under-used. The even more hapless Tailor and in particular Lucentio’s parent Vincentio is realized by Sascha Cooper, here making a surprising debut (you’d have hoped to see her earlier, as you would Philippa Hammond also present and Robert Cohen, who’ll make his debut on September 3rd). Cooper’s famed for her sudden “crazy ferocity” as other theatre-practitioners put it whilst she performed. She really is in her element here, trouncing and trashing Sedgley‘s Tranio then Ridewood’s Lucentio. Cooper has a cut-through voice she can tune to effect, affect or simple elation, and she can modulate to a purr.

Charles Church is equally neat and carving a sense of a character as Biondello and Petruccio’s kicked-about servant Curtis. Susan Manning’s truculent Grumio makes an impression, and as one of Petruccio’s Servants, lament with Curtis. The Servant and full regalia’d police Officer of Louise Solignac-Lecomte are silent roles.

Henderson seems amongst other roles born to be Petruccio. The delight of the real-life partners is here a potential sense of real edge. Where no intimacy director or co-ordinator is needed you often see a ramp-up in tension, in risk-taking, in visceral desire and hate. Some of the latter is certainly here. Henderson’s a lucid, clarion-like Petruccio, less crazy than some I’ve seen, but full of presence and a little menace, as you might expect from someone who can portray dark Conservative MPs in his own The Polished Scar.

Rosenfeld plays her part deliberately. Except when squashing her poor sister Bianca, you wonder why everything is delivered at an andante pace. I think in truth the earlier part could be speeded up, as it can dictate pace and the production lacked the madcap injection Shrew always needs. In a word timing. And even cutting down the comedic scenes doesn’t detract from the need to keep those left at a breakneck speed.

We do though gain Katerina’s gaslit, starved and utterly dejected state when we hit the sun-and-moon scene. By this time Petruccio breaks Katerina into saying an untrue thing then contradicting and humiliating her in front of Hortensio who’s jogged along now his suit is spent. And who enjoins Katerina to surrender her pride.

Costumes are sometimes beige and white with hats, a 1950s feel overall: the last time patriarchy was this formalised. The single great sartorial moment is Petruccio’s entering the wedding late (with Katarina Henderson and Hardy Vafadari on violins playing the Mendelssohn Dream wedding march) top-hatted, garishly green-pantalooned, like a refugee from the set of The Prisoner.

Understanding more about the end we can see in retrospect that to develop this Louise only has to insert points of solitude and devastation, where Katerina alone can rail, scream, weep, perhaps show self-harm. All outside the script all this is possible. It would prepare us for what Rosenfeld does to Henderson which is a shock and could hardly be visited upon an actor you weren’t intimate with. The final moment, with Katarina Henderson singing and playing, is finally utter tragedy.

A slowly evolving, involving reading. Alex Louise can certainly develop this to a full-scale production. She just needs to take care of the script’s truth, though it seems contradictory. Confidence and imagination will soon sort that.


Cast Members

Katerina             Joanna Rosenfeld

Petruccio            Duncan Henderson

Baptista              Sharon Drain

Bianca                Seerché Deveraux

Gremio               Richard Waring

Hortensio           Katey Ann Fraser

Lucentio             Catie Ridewood

Tailor/Vincentio Sascha Cooper

Tranio                Moses Sedgley

Biondello/Curtis Charles Church

Haberdasher/Merchant/Widow Philippa Hammond

Grumio/Servant Susan Manning

Servant/Officer  Louise Solignac-Lecomte