The Taming of the Shrew is one of the most notoriously difficult Shakespeare plays to stage. Director Maria Gaitanidi’s production, unfortunately, does exceptionally little to unravel its inherent problems or to make it a comprehensible, enjoyable piece of theatre.
Employing the original play-within-a-play device, the cast multi-roles while also switching identities and costumes within the world of the play itself. This results in an incredibly hard-to-follow production in which Evelyn Miller’s Bianca and Melissa Riggall’s Katharina are pathologically meek creatures skirting the shadows of a jumbled heap of action.
Michelle Terry performs a number of vaguely comedic subsidiary roles including, at one point, following the performance with a play script in-hand before making a joke about Shakespeare’s plot being difficult to untangle – a gag that’s funny only accidentally.
The programme notes explain that the intention was to stage a radical reassessment of Shakespeare’s early work that goes beyond understanding it on a “mundane level” as a misogynistic play. Instead, the ensemble sought to discover “masculine”, “feminine” and “eros” within the text.
Herein lies an inherent stumbling block, because it’s incredibly difficult to decipher any notion of the mythological feminine, or eros for that matter, in a work of art that – apologies for the mundanity – is so saturated with unabashed hatred for the female.
There’s a tantalising hint that Paul Ready’s sinister Petruchio is actually gaslighting Katharina, telling her she’s an unmanageable hysteric when she’s anything but. Yet this, like so much else, is disappointingly underdeveloped.