The stage is one enormous bed in Lucy Bailey’s energetic RSC touring production of The Taming of the Shrew. It is urinated on, spat on and smeared with food; there are fumblings under the sheets, fights on top of them and by the end of the play we are left in no doubt that it will be the scene for many nights of fabulous passion between David Caves’ Petruchio and Lisa Dillon’s Kate. The action takes place in 1940s Italy and the director and designer Ruth Sutcliffe have created a detailed, believable world reminiscent of the films of Roberto Rossellini and Francesco Rosi. A live band playing music composed by John Eacott adds to the atmosphere.
There is enormous fun along the way, some excellent physical comedy and some good performances. Nick Holder as Christopher Sly, on stage for almost all the performance in varying degrees of undress, gets a great deal of humour out of his situation and his body. Sam Swainsbury as Hortensio has something of a young James Fleet, nervy upper-class self-deprecation incarnate. Lisa Dillon is a fine Katherina, wild and damaged but fully the equal of her suitor, matching him blow for blow, witticism for witticism. She speaks her final speech beautifully but nothing she can do can prevent it from jarring with modern sensibilities. David Caves’ Petruchio is a powerful presence but his performance lacks charm and some of his lines lacked clarity. Charm, I think, is the thing this production is in need of. This is a work where the surprise of love overcomes the desire for wealth, but this evening, despite its virtues, failed to generate in me the particular delight we feel when two lovers we have long been rooting for are finally united. The audience’s reaction at the end, though, suggested mine was a minority view.