The Taming of the Shrew @ New Wimbledon Studio

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.

Vote For Me @ London Theatre Workshop

I have been away from the theatre for a while due to a lot of Shakespeare research, but I am happy to be back! Thanks to the lovely Rebecca at officialtheatre.com, I had a great time with the #LDNTheatreBloggers watching the London Theatre Workshop‘s new show Vote For Me. The recent political atmosphere in Britain has inspired the London theatre scene with election-related shows, and Vote For Me is one of them. However seeing a satirical American political musical on May 7th was very refreshing, and did take my mind off of Britain’s impending doom.

V4M (Hans Rye, Company)

The play follows Senators Janet Tilghman (Emily Lynne) and Buddy Rounsaville (Hans Rye) as they battle it out to win the American presidential election. Writers Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola have successfully created a brilliant set of songs which combine comedy and satire. My favourite was the Middle East Disney number, performed brilliantly by Lynne, complete with Minnie Mouse ears and skirt. Dom O’Hanlon’s direction allows the team to switch from a jazzy tap-dance sequence, full of umbrellas and glittery hats, to rock tunes with headbanging. It’s the energy of this piece which makes its so fun and enjoyable to watch.

V4M (Company)

The cast are absolutely fantastic. In particular Rye’s Buddy Rounsaville, the slightly stupid yet loveable candidate, was great. Rye manages to make the audience root for the character, even though he may not be the most obvious choice for president. Lucy Grainger as Robyn Fieldler, the host of the debate, manages to command the stage and keep the other characters in line. I loved her performance of the song VOTE! (for me), where she lists a huge number of counties without missing a beat. Props to her for making that look so effortless. I would have crumbled after the first 20.

V4M (Company) (1)

The added decisive element of this show makes it more engaging. In the end, the audience have to decide who will win the election. Speaking during the Q&A session at the end of the show, O’Hanlon said “80% of the time Janet wins and 20% of the time Buddy wins”. The evening I saw it, it was a very close call, with only one vote ensuring a female president. Whichever way it goes though, the team are prepared with a fantastic final number sung by the winner.

Based just above the Eel Brook Pub in the posh part of London, a lovely fringe venue, the London Theatre Workshop have created an extremely enjoyable and topical musical. This show shines a light on just how ridiculous and theatrical elections really are, whichever side of the pond they’re on. Vote For Me is great fun and absolutely hilarious, I highly recommend it.