The Taming of the Shrew, RSC on National Tour
In many ways, Taming of the Shrew is even more of a problem play than Merchant of Venice and Review, those other manifestations of Elizabethan political incorrectness. Modern revisionism can make excuses for Shylock and Othello's behaviour but Petruchio's? Nah, forget it.
Lindsay Posner's new version of the play doesn't let you settle. It starts off with Fat Boy Slim blaring out of a nightclub and Stuart McQuarrie's Christopher Sly being ejected. Treated like an aristocrat, as part of a bizarre joke, and played by Colin McCormack's Lord, Sly stumbles across a computer and clicks onto the Taming Room website. From that point on, the action is then presented as something of a role-playing game.
This sounds like a neat idea but doesn't really make any sense, once you realise that the same actors that play Sly and the Lord are also playing Petruchio and Baptista - would that really happen in a computer game? And why is this Sly so ready to identify himself with Petruchio? The two characters have nothing in common.
Fortunately some of these puzzles are rescued by the quality of the acting. McQuarrie's red-blooded, roistering, macho, wise-cracking Petruchio hits Padua like a hurricane and is wooing Katherine almost before he's hanging his hat up. This play really stands or falls by how good Petruchio is and McQuarrie doesn't let us down.
Simon Coates and Jo Stone-Fewings have great fun as Lucentio and Hortensio, two suitors for Charlotte Randle's rather lively Bianca, and Louis Hilyer makes a nicely cynical Tranio.
The real disappointment is Monica Dolan's Katherine. Apart from a brief flash of temper, this is a truly insipid shrew - more like a mouse. So laid back is she that her last speech of submission doesn't really shock - the slow, monotonous delivery only reiterates what has gone before. McQuarrie's Petruchio deserves better.
This is a production that reeks of modernity: dance music, computers, the Internet, chat rooms, it has it all but the gimmicks weigh the play down. It closes with a quick blast of Prodigy and 'Smack my bitch up'. It sounds clever, but really, Petruchio's treatment of Katherine is so effective that he needs no violence. That's what is so sinister about this play - and it is that undercurrent of fear that has been lost in Posner's production.