Another great performance by the Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, previously known as Shakespeare Sessions. This time it’s a gender-inverted Taming of the Shrew at the New Wimbledon Studio. In a play that is considered to be problematic for modern audiences, director Ross McGregor switches the genders of the characters, pushing the audience to think about who is actually ‘tamed’ in the end of the play.
Drunk Christopher Sly (a hilarious performance by Christopher Neels) is tricked into thinking he is a lord by a group of actors, who then perform for him the play. Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) is desperate to marry one of his suitors, but his mother Baptista (Cornelia Baumann) will only permit this once his older brother Kajetano (Alexander McMorran) is married. Kajetano’s argumentative and angry character means no woman wants to be married to him. That is until Petruchia (Elizabeth Appleby) decides she needs a husband. The two become married, and amongst the mistaken identity and love quarrels, so begins the process of Petruchia’s taming of Kajetano.
Appleby presents an exceptional performance as Petruchia. She manages to balance her character’s taming techniques with genuine love for Kajetano, which allows the audience to feel more sympathetic towards her than they normally would feel towards Petruchio. I understand that by inverting the genders, this was the director’s intention. McMorran is equally impressive opposite Appleby. His power on stage mixed with the character’s vulnerability is perfectly portrayed. I was always on Kajetano’s side. McGregor’s adaptation does not glorify violence against men by empowering the women in the play, but shows that even as a male, the character of Katherina/Kajetano is essentially a victim of abuse, whichever way Shakespeare wanted to portray it. I think that is something important to take away from the play.
At times the chaos on stage does become overhweliming. The several caricatured and over the top servants do distract from the main action, and it becomes difficult to remain focussed on the actual dialogue. But some good does come out of this, such as Lucy Caplin’s portrayal of Grumia, Petruchia’s Servant. She was hilarious and really fun to watch. Norma Butikofer also stands out in this play. She has a great voice, and changes effortlessly from character to character, playing each role very convincingly. The ensemble work very well together.
The gender politics in Shakespeare’s play is perfectly explored in this adaptation, and it is genuinely so nice to see so many women present on stage. This never takes away from the understanding of the characters themselves, but adds another layer of interpretation. Through the framing device, however, McGregor lets us know that we as a society still have a long way to go in truly achieving gender equality. Overall, this is another great Shakespeare adaptation from a very talented company. More please.