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The Taming of the Shrew review at Above the Arts, London – ‘playful gender-swapped Shakespeare’

Martina Laird in The Taming of the Shrew at Above the Arts, London. Martina Laird in The Taming of the Shrew at Above the Arts, London.
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The Taming of the Shrew is one of the more frequently gender-swapped plays, with several recent fringe productions approaching the role-reversal in different ways and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 schools’ production giving children a cross-cast ‘first encounter’ of the knotty play.

In this production, which takes its visual and performance cues from Restoration comedy, Padua is a highly mannered female society, with ‘mwahs’ ritually passed between matriarchs, and none more tightly-laced and precariously-heeled than than the prized sons of Baptista, Katharina and Bianca. Only Petruchio, played swaggeringly by Casualty’s Martina Laird, seems free of all social strictures, in loose outlandish garb, and brandishing a violin bow.

With less precision than she exhibited in the National Theatre’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl in 2012, Laird is still highly entertaining and completely present. Her relationship to the women of Padua is clear – but she doesn’t drill down into why Petruchio cheerfully abuses Katharina.

This is true of Rae Mcken’s production as a whole – the engaging choices that accompany the re-gendering of the play do not satisfactorily interrogate this comedy. Katharina is psychologically beaten into submission for money, and Kazeem Tosin Amore has to play the undesired ‘kiss in the street’ from Petruchio as a transformative romantic spark.

The greatest pleasure of this The Taming of the Shrew is seeing so many women – and so many women of colour – taking on the key roles. Custom/Practice present this celebration of cultural diversity alongside gender- and colour-blind lunchtime Shakespeare performances, discussions, comedy and scratch.

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A showcase of diverse female talent, this playful Taming lets its cheeky female Petruchio charm rather than chill