Updated: Jul 7, 2019
As a huge fan of Shakespeare and the RSC’s productions, it was with some excitement that I went to see their latest production of “The Taming of the Shrew”, a comedy that revolves around the sharp-tongued Katherine who is “tamed” by her new husband Petruchio. This being the RSC however, there is always a twist in the tale, and the twist here was that the entire production was gender-flipped. All male characters played by females and vice-versa.
This is an excellent idea on paper – of course, a lot of Shakespeare’s plays primarily revolve around men (there were only male actors allowed on stage during Shakespeare’s day) which means it is often difficult for women to gain experience of classical roles, so it is great that the RSC creates these opportunities for female actors. Gender-flipping certain characters has worked well for the RSC in the past too (last year, Romeo + Juliet’s Mercutio and Troilus + Cressida’s Agamemnon were both played by women). However, this production did not just involve one or two characters being gender flipped, but rather the entire cast.
This meant that the patriarchy became the matriarchy, and it was the male characters who were trained to become submissive, and follow the orders of their more powerful female counterparts. An excellent and thought-provoking message to convey during this era of #MeToo, but ultimately one that doesn’t work as well as it should have. In changing characters, certain elements of the text are changed (various pronouns etc.) but other elements remain the same, meaning that the descriptions of certain characters often do not match up with their actual physical appearance, and the whole thing feels a little… well, off. It is difficult to form an emotional connection with these characters since you are constantly being reminded in the text that the character is meant to be male rather than female. It seems that the entire production would come together nicely with a more thorough re-write of the text, rather than just the casual change of pronoun. But, of course, in doing this, you risk losing the poetic imagery of Shakespeare’s work.
There are good things about this production, don’t get me wrong. Amanda Harris plays a formidable Baptista, whilst Laura Elsworthy and Sophie Stanton provide excellent comic relief as Trania and Gremia respectively (the latter gliding about on the stage almost as though a Segway were hidden under her skirt). The subplot of Bianco (James Cooney) and his suitors is perhaps more engaging than the main story of Katherine’s (Joseph Arkley) “taming” at the hands of wife Petruchia (Claire Price). Amy Trigg’s Biondella also deserves a mention for her excellent speech, delivered at break-neck pace, just before the interval.
Overall, despite not quite matching up to the RSC’s extraordinarily high standards, this is a decent production, with strong comedic elements and an extremely talented cast. RSC’s “The Taming of the Shrew” plays in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 31st August, before embarking on a tour of the UK from September 2019-April 2020.