This companion piece to The Taming of the Shrew is a bit of an oddity. It's a sequel that's not been written by the author of the original, although it seems to have been written with Shakespeare's blessing. And it is certainly disarmingly modern with its strong emphasis on female solidarity culminating with Maria's plea for equality within marriage - a sentiment far removed from the ones expressed in Shrew.
This story of Petruchio's second marriage to the independently-minded Maria and her attempts to 'tame' him to her way of thinking could be seen as the flipside of Shrew, although the emphasis is much more on comedy.
The plot has some of its roots in Aristophanes' Lysistrata, there is much that sounds remarkably contemporary; for example, the women's demands for 'clothes and liberty' sounds as if it has come straight from Sex in the City. Although the scheming Maria could be seen as harbinger of the duplicitous women of Restoration comedy.
The play is not as complex as Shrew however and while Fletcher obviously has a taste for double-entendre and crude slapstick, he doesn't have the poetic gifts that Shakespeare had. The Petruchio of Shew is infinitely more complex than the simple-minded character of this play. However, Jasper Britton mines all the comic potential of the role; his attempt to feign a cough was a comedy routine reminiscent of Frankie Howerd at his best.
Alexandra Gilbreath is good but is not quite as powerful as she was in Shrew, where we watched her come to life as a woman. Her Katherine was ignited by a passionate love, her Maria doesn't quite seem to come to life in the same way.
The supporting cast are excellent however. Christopher Godwin's eternally disappointed Gremio is hilarious, Rory Kinnear and Eve Myles have great fun with the scheming Tranio and Bianca, and Daniel Brocklebank shines as the lovelorn Rowland.
Greg Doran directs proceedings with verve and pace, not easing up on the comedy for an instant. It is annoying, however, that Maria delivers many of her speeches in the first act from a balcony that is totally invisible to the left side of the stalls. When will directors learn to set vital scenes in parts of the stage visible to all? An understanding of sightlines should be incumbent on all of them.
That grumble aside, this double bill has been a triumph for Doran and he deserves credit for reviving this excellent and highly comic play. It was certainly appreciated fully by the audience; although there was a noticeable divergence in the way that the audience laughed: the women heartily, the men edgily, mentally shifting their credit cards further into the recesses of their jacket pockets.
- Maxwell Cooter
NOTE: The following review dates from April 2003 and this production's original season at Stratford-upon-Avon.
There's a double helping of great Britton at Stratford where a sparkling new production of Shakespeare's ever-popular comedy The Taming of the Shrew, starring a waspish Jasper Britton, coupled with an equally fine production of the obscure The Tamer Tamed, is currently playing.
After the disappointing season opener As You Like It, it's gratifying to report that The Tamer Tamed, written by John Fletcher as a riposte to his future collaborator, finds the RSC firing on all cylinders.
Written 20 years after the Shrew, The Tamer Tamed opens with Petruchio (Britton) marrying for the second time. Maria (Alexandra Gilbreath), however, has no intention of being forced into submission and refuses to accompany him to their wedding bed, vowing rather to bring the tamer to heel.
The directing by Gregory Doran, whose 'Jacobethan' season of plays garnered critical acclaim and an award, is first-class, drawing exuberant and richly-detailed performances from his two leads as well as an outstanding cast that includes Christopher Godwin as the deliciously ancient and seedy suitor Gremio and Paul Chahidi as Petruchio's friend Hortensio.
Britton's decline from swaggerer into utter and final abjection is terrific stuff and for the most part this play rattles along at a cracking pace, only subsiding somewhat towards the end of the second half. In one of the highlights, women in the town rally to the besieged Maria, breaking into ecstatic singing and dancing, stamping their feet and beating pots and pans.
In a wonderful scene near the close of the first half, an increasingly desperate Britton feigns illness, trying out first a range of symptoms before settling on a hacking cough. But instead of the expected succour, he is suckered, by Maria, who has him imprisoned as a plague victim.
The stage is refreshingly clear of clutter; props are few and to the point, while the costume is period Jacobean, Doran eschewing unnecessary and jarring updating.
The Tamer Tamed is, in short, a corker, and though the quality of the writing is no match even for early Shakespeare, its realisation by Doran and his crack cast is a rousing triumph. Go see.
- Pete Wood