This text-reduced, gender-reversed take on one of Shakespeare’s more problematic plays is a funny and poignant introduction to the canon, aimed at 8-13 year olds - part of the RSC’s First Encounter project, formerly called Young People’s Shakespeare.
Anjana Vasan (Tranio) and Chris Jared (Bianca) in The Taming of the Shrew Photo: Simon Annand
Forbes Masson as Katherine stomps about grotesquely in a day frock and then a wedding dress, angry, vulnerable, desperately jealous of Chris Jared’s smug Bianca and anxious about the future. Katy Stephens as the equally troubled bereaved Petruchio creates a charismatic, manipulative, trouser-suited figure (except for a witty dramatic surprise as his wedding). The moment at which they fall in love is always a high spot in this play and in Fentiman’s version it is very clear in the final moving scene that they now speak as one - and have done a deal behind the scenes which isn’t always as evident as it should be.
The energetic supporting cast includes attractive work from Mimi Ndiweni as Lucentio, David Fielder as an irascible Baptista, addressed as Madam or Mother and Ann Penfold having fun playing the grumpy Gremio. Underscored music played on harp and cello from the side by Elizabeth Gray, and often contributed to by cast chorus, contributes a lot of atmosphere and Colin Richmond (fresh from Wendy and Peter Pan and clearly keen on Edwardian clutter) has done wonders with a set built from suitcases and other travel bags to connote all the movement between cities in the play.
And there’s plenty here for restive pre-pubescents to respond to. The ones I saw it with, for example, adored the way the cast brought out the double entedre in “What, with my tongue in your tail?”