The Taming of the Shrew has undergone a considerable reappraisal in the last couple of decades. While in the 60s and 70s it was derided by feminists as a play about subjugating feminity and the female spirit, it is now looked at far more sympathetically and is seen as a play in which two people find each other and fall in love.
Rachel Kavanaughís excellent production, set in a 1940s Italy, is one of the most romantic interpretations I have seen. I did wonder whether post-Mussoliniís Italy was quite the right place to draw attention to the nature of Petruchioís taming of Katherine, with its dependence on sleep and food deprivation; but such dark thoughts are swept aside with the exuberance of Kavanaughís production. This is not a play about subjugation but about a couple finding the solace of mutual love: Petruchio and Katherine are kindred spirits to Beatrice and Benedick, as two people railing against the world.
The key strength is John Hodgkinsonís droll Petruchio. Here is no wily fortune-hunter, nor swaggering, macho braggart - but someone who finds himself caught up in adventure, having to improvise wildly, and although initially tempted by the rich dowry that marrying Katherine will bring him, the money becomes secondary.
And heís well-matched by Sirine Sabaís Katherine; not so much a shrew but an unhappy young woman shunned by her father and ill-at-ease in her own family. She eventually feels liberated by Petruchioís treatment of her. When they have their argument as to whether itís the sun or moon thatís shining, itís Petruchio who prostrates himself at her feet and is she who raises her arms in triumph at her acquiescence: the image of a young woman finding happiness for the first time.
The action moves at a frantic pace (the rather ponderous opening Christopher Sly scene has been cut) with David Partridgeís Tranio and Dominic Marchís Lucentio working their trickery perfectly. Timothy Kightleyís Baptista is no despairing father, desperate to get rid of his daughters, but a tough businessman who sees financial opportunity in an advantageous marriage.
Kit Surreyís stylish design beautifully captures the essence of a provincial Italian city. Itís a shame that we didnít have some Mediterranean weather to match the setting, but this is a good start to Regentís Park summer season.
- Maxwell Cooter