"Not one for the puritans" is a phrase often used to describe avant-garde Shakespeare productions. Fringe veterans Shakespeare for Breakfast provide a take on Shakespeare that’s for the puritans, the novices, the haters and everyone in between.
Thoroughly accessible, feel-fantastic fun
This year’s offering is The Taming of the Shoe, directed by Damian Sandys and created with the premise that the ensemble misread the original’s title, so, without the time to remould their show, are pressing ahead with the tale of an East End shoe salesman and his two daughters, the ditzy sequined Bianca and the bookish, standoffish Kate, the second of whom must marry before the first does. Cue a multiplicity of shoe puns, and the laddish, tattooed Pete Truchio arriving to win Kate’s hand for a sizeable fee from her father.
I had the pleasure of seeing this production at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, and it is now playing at the Canal Café Theatre in Little Venice. The transfer from a thrust stage in a large auditorium to a tiny, cabaret-style stage in a room seating perhaps a hundred audience members around tables is a significant one, particularly when the eponymous gimmick of free coffee and croissants has vanished with the Fringe morning slot – according to the script, the company ordered an industrial quantity of croissants that were accidentally sent to Edinburgh. Although there is less space for the ensemble to bounce about (and occasionally ride a scooter), the show’s signature blend of finely-tuned comic set pieces and deliberate low-tech scrappiness survives the transfer and shines exuberantly.
There are passages of brand new iambic pentameter, there are random objects thrown from offstage, there are up-to-the-minute gags (including Brexit jokes still relevant since August), and it manages to avoid making the story horribly sexist. The plot and character development may be thin on the ground, but it's all loveable nonetheless and the jokes come in thick and fast. The ensemble of Roseanna Connolly, Emily Jane Kerr, John Oakes and Chris Thomson are captivating from start to finish, with an easy, amiable delivery that manages to make even audience participation feel friendly and tasteful rather than terrifying.
Shakespeare for Breakfast’s take on The Taming of the Shrew is thoroughly accessible, feel-fantastic fun. I have no regrets about returning, and can confirm that no free caffeine is required to get you through it.