Jack Studio Theatre 18 July – 5 August. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The Taming of the Shrew is one of those plays that can cause bitter arguments. I have met many women who are adamant that the play should not be performed anymore, citing its misogyny and scenes of subjugation, torture and reprogramming. My argument that there are some really funny parts just doesn’t wash. Unlike the Globe’s Irish set tragic version last year, Lazarus Theatre have embraced the Christopher Sly framing structure to present a boisterous and funny adaptation that never lets the audience forget that they are watching a play within a play, designed to teach a sexist drunken idiot the error of his ways.
The fun begins before you enter the theatre, with festival bunting and fake grass adorning the entrance as the cast push past you laden with tents and deckchairs. As always with Lazarus, there is lots of relaxed preshow audience interaction, before Sly makes his entrance.
Staged in the round, the audience become part of the show, given props and lines, with this enjoyably relaxed atmosphere allowing much louder and spontaneous reactions to some of the more sexist lines than you would usually hear in a Shakespeare play. The bartering over Bianca becomes like The X Factor, with the audience waving flags and cheering for their favourite suitor, and the disturbing scenes where Kate is tamed are played at top speed, and for laughs. Director Sara Reimers ends on an act of defiance and power, as the always dignified Kate (the wonderful Charlotte Dowding, whose facial expressions say as much as Shakespeare’s words) and the female cast show their contempt for how they are treated by the men.
The strong cast all give energetic and physical performances, with CJ de Mooi chewing the scenery to hysterical effect as old Gremio, and Matthew Foster so good as Petruchio that you actually want to slap the him. The loyal servants, Tranio and Grumio are played brilliantly by Evangeline Dickson and Rachel Smart, giving their respective cleverness and oafish brutality an interesting new spin.
There was a little too much unnecessary smoke effects at times, but that is my only gripe, and, I suppose that inhaling dodgy strange smoke gives the production a more realistic festival atmosphere.
With The Taming of the Shrew, Lazarus Theatre have done it again, re-imagining a classic play in a modern, exciting and joyful production that cannot fail to bring a goofy smile to your face.