The challenge of The Taming of the Shrew is in appreciating its relevance within the context that this is a story of a man aiming to tame a woman to make her a subservient wife. Even with the understanding that this is a farce, and in appreciating Shakespeare’s comedic devices, it remains a challenge to purely see this play as a romantic comedy of man wooing woman.
It is therefore fortunate that Jo Clifford has written her own radical retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. Produced by the Sherman Theatre and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, this is a play which successfully delivers on humour and wit. Cleverly leaving a challenging aftertaste.
Through Jo Clifford we are introduced to a world of the matriarchy. For press night this was accentuated by women being welcomed to the theatre first, to allow them the best seats. Maintaining the framing device of Sly, a drunken male verbalises his opposition to the arrangement and so begins the fun of understanding this overall reframing.
The seven players bringing The Taming of the Shrew into this new world were wonderfully colourful in their performances. The telling of this tale is brought with great humour and musicality. Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s musical arrangements fill the space with fun and emotion. Alongside Alexandria Riley’s fantastic vocal the layers brought to the story are underlined.
With Matt Gavan and François Pandolfo taking on the gender-flipped roles of Katherina and Bianca the understanding of submissive is comically undertangled. Whilst Bianca’s character untangles the more overtly fun submission bringing comedic elements, it is in Katherina and Petruchio that the darker relationships are explored.
Scarlett Brookes is an absolute joy as Petruchio, the delicate unpeeling of the role of dominant woman. From confidence and flirtation into the depths of a controlling and dominating persona. The unravelling of this into the uncomfortable conviction of belief was accompanied by the traits of worsening mental health. And it was through Petruchio the realities of a world favouring the matriarchy was explored.
The unease which balances the comedy of this retelling is delicately and deliberately realised by Michael Fentiman. There is a feeling that this Taming of the Shrew is far more than a simple flipping of roles. This is the exploration of a society where the existence of a dominant gender continues to create a greater imbalance. This doesn’t feel forced. An understanding gently creeps up whilst the audience are distracted, appreciating the humour brought to the stage through a talented cast.
Taking in The Taming of the Shrew at the Sherman Theatre is something which will stay with you. Maybe for the humour and fantastic performances. Maybe for the questions it will leave you pondering. And hopefully for the appreciation of how relevant all these questions are today.
Disclosure: I was invited to the production for the purpose of this review.