The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 19-22 March 2003

In this story of two sisters and their suitors, wealth plays an important part (Petruchio comes "to wive it wealthily in Padua" and Baptista states that "He .. That can assure my daughter greatest dower shall have my Bianca's love".

Wealth is also in evidence in the Abingdon Drama Club's production of "The Taming of the Shrew" when I saw it at the Unicorn Theatre on Wednesday 19th of March 2003 - the wealth of talent in the club. A Drama Club which can fill over 20 speaking parts (sixteen of them male!) is wealthy indeed.

Shakespeare's early play (written in 1594) was inspired by the 'Comedies of Intrigue' popular in Renaissance Italy and Spain. It is best known to us for the plot which provides the play's title (and that of the popular American musical, 'Kiss me Kate'). Unlike the Bianca plot, the taming of Katherine by Petruchio does contain some genuine emotion, as well as the sheer fun of the battle of the sexes. To put on this play, a company must have two actors capable of carrying these demanding roles; and in Colette Lardner-Browne and John Hawkins the Abingdon Club has two ideal players; both very assured and talented actors, they were very well-matched, and carried the main story delightfully. They were particularly well supported by Michael Ward (Grumio), whose obvious, if cynical, enjoyment of their wooing, and indeed of life generally, provided a strong link with the audience: we saw Kate and Petruchio through Grumio's eyes.

The other story, that of Bianca and her four suitors, is extremely complicated but the director ensured that we always knew who was disguised as who - no mean feat! Sarah Cowburn calmly provided a still centre around which the various other characters revolved. Dominic Ryan was satisfactorily romantic as Lucentio Adam Dewar and Jon Crowley were well contrasted as Hortensio and Gremio; and there was a particularly effective performance by Terry Newbegin as Tranio, the manipulative servant.

Shakespeare created dramatic opportunities for a large number of 'minor' characters; and the performers seized their chances and added vitality to the whole: among others, Nathaniel Tagg was amusingly incompetent as Biondello; and I liked the earnest Curtis (Allen Dannfald); the mystified Vincentio (Keith Hales), and Hortensio's Widow (Karen Turner). I have reserved until last what seemed to me a gem of a performance, an island of (comparative) sense in an ocean of eccentricity, Rod Newman, who gave a particularly well-judged performance of charm and wit as Baptista, the girls' father.

The Director, Malcolm Ross, is to be congratulated on many counts: the variety of the characterisations; the pace, which was well maintained throughout; and, perhaps above all, the decision (unlike so many 'modern' Stratford Directors) to use Elizabethan costumes. The whole production (including lighting, sound and make-up) was perfectly suited to the Renaissance form of the Unicorn Theatre, with its painted pillars and its inner and upper stages.

The large (and predominantly young) audience on the first night clearly enjoyed this rumbustious and delightful production of what is probably Shakespeare's most purely comic play. ('Feminists' should note that Petruchio as well as Kate is 'tamed', so that by the end of the play both have discovered that unselfishness - according to Shakespeare - is always the mark of true love). Congratulations and thanks to all the members of the Abingdon Drama Club for an evening of such undiluted fun.

Charles Lepper - Oxford - 20/3/03

Bard's shrewd lesson in love

Today if a playwright penned "The Taming of the Shrew" it would probably - and deservedly - attract a great deal of wrath for being so politically incorrect. Apart from the remarkably sexist title there's the manner of the taming itself - poor wife Katherina is battered into compliance and submission by a combination of starvation, sleep deprivation, mind games and physical violence.

In today's enlightened society these would be suitable grounds for divorce alone - and probably prompt a visit from the boys in blue.

But they did things differently in Shakespeare's time - and indeed, in fair Padua, where this tale of passion was set all those years ago.

Thankfully, true love conquers all, as was beautifully demonstrated in Abingdon Drama Club's wonderful version staged at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, last week as part of the Abingdon Arts Festival.

Their colourful production - thanks to exotic costumes hired from the Royal Shakespeare Company - featured an excellent cast led by John Hawkins, as tamer Petruchio, and Colette Lardner-Browne as Katherina, the unfairly-named shrew.

Full marks to director Malcolm Ross for staging such an ambitious project, which was delivered word perfect by all his talented players, from the principals to the supporting members of the cast.

As well as the leading pair, praise must also go to Michael Ward as sloppy servant Grumio, Sarah Cowburn as the beautiful, much sought after Bianca (Katherina's younger sister) and also Allen Dannfald in two supporting roles.

There were many memorable highlights in the production, but the verbal sparring scenes between Colette Lardner-Browne and John Hawkins stood out.

In particular, Colette created a wonderful wildcat, storming around the stage like the "fiend of hell" she was described as. No wonder her father could not find a suitor to "woo her, wed her, bed her and rid the house of her."

By the end of the play she was exactly the opposite - a tamed wife who supported her new husband and willingly obliged when he demanded "Kiss me Kate".

A happy ending which proves that the Bard was ahead of his time - foreseeing equality and trust as the cornerstones of marriage. Perhaps he wasn't so politically incorrect after all.

Roy Cooper - Abingdon Herald


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