Always viewed as a ‘problem’ play because of its misogynistic treatment of the central character, the difficulties in this area are interestingly scrambled by Propeller because of their all-male casting but, ultimately, there’s no getting around the fact that this is neither Shakespeare’s finest work nor one that chimes with present-day conceptions of how things oughta be between men and women.
Like their Twelfth Night, which runs in tandem with Shrew at The Lowry this week, Propeller the piece on a two-level, shades of grey set, with a first floor colonnade that overlooks a blasted mansion littered with giant mirrored wardrobes and chests of drawers, all backed by a seriously brooding sky and giant-sized reproductions of amorous Old Masters. It’s in a wide-ranging collection of modern dress styles from Hawaiian shirts to backless chaps-like jeans and jocks, the latter getting a few startled hoots from the audience.
Conviction is the key to the performance, something Edward Hall’s company, whatever they are doing, always have in spades. The Christopher Sly framework of the piece is here done as a dream, in which Sly transforms into Petruchio (Vince Leigh), the swaggering adventurer given the task of taming Dan Wheeler’s, bovver-booted, blonde-haired Katherine.
Lots of innuendo, heavily underlined throughout, produce plenty of sniggers from the teenagers studying the text - best probably not to see this at a schools’ matinee – and help the evening speed through some of the play’s less interesting passages, which haven’t been pruned as thoroughly as Propeller sometimes do.
Comedy, as usual with Propeller, is highly inventive and there are lashings of amusing slapstick here, a highlight being the opening scene of the second half, where Petruchio brings Kate home to meet the servants and the whole thing turns into a knockabout farce with serving dishes flying everywhere while poor, in-training Kate, gasps for a crust.
I don’t like the play one bit but if you feel you must see it, this is as robust a production of it as you are likely ever to come across.