Guildford Castle Grounds
12-27 June 2009
The Taming of the Shrew can be a problematic play to produce in these politically-correct times. Just what is the audience supposed to make of a tale about domestic abuse - with the arrogant, cruel Petruchio who starves his wife and deprives her of sleep to "tame" her? A man who mistreats his servants and generally behaves in a way that would, these days, see him either behind bars or sectioned?
Performed by the Guildford Shakespeare Company as broad farce and with much verve and glee, it's possible to just sit back and enjoy it for what it is - a rom-com romp, the age-old story of the battle of the sexes, with plenty of Shakespeare's traditional identity-swaps and a bucket load of physical and verbal humour to keep the audience engaged.
The play works perfectly here in the grounds of the ruined Guildford Castle, the sloping site providing a natural rake and the garden's bandstand doubling as the stage. Other than that, props and set are minimal, but not missed. The contemporary setting of this interpretation sees the characters dressed in everything from punk-chick slashed leathers to sub-New Romantic three-piece suits. But like the tailoring, it all fits beautifully.
Tom Peters makes a terrific Petruchio, swaggering and posturing in a visceral performance that commands the audience's attention whenever he appears. The entire cast seem to be having a ball, making the most of Shakespeare's double entendres, aided by director Charlotte Conquest's keen sense of pace and comic timing. Only Sarah Gobran's Katherina seems slightly underpowered, not really matching up to Peters' Petruchio, and at times coming across as screechily petulant rather than shrewish and defiant.
So take a picnic, sit back in the sunshine (with an umbrella just in case...), put political correctness on hold, and enjoy a very special treat of a production.
- Carole Gordon