Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Katherina, central figure of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, contemplates her life from the other side of her marriage to Petruchio. She feels trapped and is furious with her father who never seemed to care, her sister, who figured it all out better than she did and her husband, who made it all happen and destroyed it in equal measure.
Shrew is a new piece of solo theatre written and performed by Ami Jones which sets out to explore one of Shakespeare’s most interesting women – Katharina, or Katharine, or Kate in Taming of the Shrew.
The setting is indeterminate, there is a banner proclaiming ‘Shrew’ at the back of the stage and a trunk on the floor. Unfortunately the nature of the space makes the contents of the trunk and action at floor level difficult to see from other than the first two rows which is a shame as some of the significant parts of the story take place there.
It probably helps to know the basic outline of the play – in order to make sense of why she is so angry with her father, sister and husband – but a close familiarity with the text is not necessary to follow this piece.
As we enter, Katherine is sitting on the trunk wearing a white slip and repetitively bouncing a ball suggesting a degree of ennui with her life before a word is spoken. She then explores her world – described as neither reality (where she does not belong) nor the play (where she belongs even less). She rails bitterly against the lot cast her by life and literature, and in doing so asks fundamental questions about what it means to be trapped in a life she didn’t ask for or deserve, unsure whether this is the result of the actions of others (her father, sister, husband) or somehow through her own choices, fate, or destiny. Her starting point is the play but the text ranges far and wide from it, returning to it periodically as she explores whether there were other possible outcomes for her younger self.
Ami Jones appears to be asking these questions from a point some way into her life with Petruchio – she refers to Bianca as having her sixth child; however, she delivers much of the play wearing a wedding dress suggesting the perspective is that of a newly married Katherina. I wasn’t sure whether this was a deliberate choice in creating the work.
Jones’ performance is powerful and holds the audience throughout; however, the pace and tirade reach a peak quite early leaving her with little manoeuvring space. The result is that much of the subtleties of the text towards the end of the play are lost. It was only as I reread my notes I saw the shifts as she explores who is responsible for her state. The impact would be greater if the approaching climax were managed more carefully allowing the character more space to vary the pace and volume.
There were some directorial choices I didn’t understand, in particular why original speeches by Katharina are spoken at a microphone; and why, if she has been married for some time she is wearing a wedding dress.
In conclusion it is an energetic piece of new writing that will either grab you by the throat because it speaks to questions you are asking about life, things too big to have easy answers, or leave you baffled because you wonder how anyone could stay that angry for that long.