It’s not Kiss Me Kate. It’s not Annie Get Your Gun. Nor is it Calamity Jane, The Big Country, High Noon or any other Western classic you may have seen. After all, this is Hornchurch and the stage of the Queen’s Theatre, not some state-of-the-art cinematic multiplex.
But it is Shakespeare’s early comedy The Taming of the Shrewin a Wild West setting. And it certainly is great fun.
We lose the Induction with Christopher Sly and come straight to the dusty main street of the little town of Padua, Texas some time in the late 19th century. On one side is Baptista Minola’s hotel and saloon; on the other, an undertaker’s establishment run by elderly Gremio conveniently adjacent to the sheriff (Hortensio)’s office.
Throughout the play there is music, very well selected by Carol Slomn from a mix of blue grass, traditional and film-score sources and extremely well played and sung by various cast members. It links location changes as well as providing a counterpoint to the not-always clearly enunciated dialogue.
Petruchio (Elliot Harper) is very much the anti-romantic hero, lanky in person and revelling as much in the emotional as in the strictly practical knots of his wooing of overtly tomboy Kate (Claire Storey). Mark Stanford as Lucentio and Sarah Scowen as Bianca – a blonde doll who is never quite a puppet – make a satisfactory pair of subsidiary lovers.
Jared Ashe’s Gremio earns more than perhaps his fair share of the audience’s sympathy, unlike Matthew Quinn’s Hortensio. Tom Jude’s Tranio, over the border from down Mexico way, and Natasha Moor’s American Indian Grumio are both enjoyable portraits of servants who know (more or less) how far they can presume. Simon Jessup plays Baptista as a man with a shrewd eye for a bargain.
Director Bob Carlton keeps the action fast moving and the audience’s expectations focused from the introductory cinema advertisement programme and credits to the final hoe-down. Hannah Welch is the choreographer and Norman Coates the designer.