This unorthodox Festival Shakespeare Company production kicked off its first night with some serious pizazz! Bringing a comedy favourite to new life, the acclaimed Brighton company threw in some velvet tracksuits, semi-nudity, a healthy dose of winks and nods- shook it up and poured the lovely stuff into the al fresco environs of St. Ann’s Well Gardens.
The classic tale of mistaken identities, gender politics, marriage plots (and subplots) is played in the round, with ropes indicating the ‘stage.’ This makes for an extra intimate and engaging play-going experience, with plenty of space for all that leaping and tussling. Given the location and flexible staging they could have done a bit more audience participation and made better use of the gardens, but it was delightful to hear birds twittering above the shrieks of ‘cursed Kate!’ and bellowed ‘Marry, sir!’ and see neighbourhood children peeking their heads over the hedge.
The players gave it their all, literally throwing themselves about with boundless enthusiasm which was utterly infectious. As a small company the roles were doubled up, but each character managed to stand out with trademark accents and some wonderfully ludicrous mannerisms. Tranio (Amy Sutton) whisked the audience away with her (yes, her) boisterous double act with the magnificent Joshua Crisp who played the high-born yet down-and-dirty Lucentio. It was a brave decision to get them to exchange clothes onstage, but I’ve never seen someone more becoming in Oliver Hardy style trousers and loafers. Joshua Crisp’s energetic performance had us in hysterics, as did Bianca’s slapstick pair of suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, played by Tomi May and Carey Thring respectively.
This adaptation pulls no punches and there was a subtle twist in the relationship between Katherina, the Shrew, and her dominating ‘tamer’ Petruchio (Charlie Allen). The Taming of the Shrew is a notoriously controversial play, and the Company trod a delicate line by making Katherina (Katerina Elliott) feisty but likeable , while her suitor was all arrogance and domination, exhibiting occasional flashes of true violence. Hence, in Katherina’s divisive final speech Petruchio’s visible remorse is made all the more effective by her apparent docility. And after all that, a rousing musical finale!
A provo-kate-ive take on a ‘wonderful froward’ comedy, delivered with zest and vigour.
(Top tip: bring blankets, sleeping bags, bearskin - it gets pretty chilly when the sun goes down!)