The Taming of the Shrew kicks off the summer season at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park. Shakespeare’s battle-of-the-sexes comedy opened on Monday 5 June 2006 (previews from 29 May) and continues in rep until 2 September 2006.

The new production is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, whose staging of Cymbeline was at the Open Air Theatre last year. Sirine Saba and John Hodginkson star as Kate (the shrew) and Petruchio in a cast that also features Gerard Carey, Timothy Kightley, Dominic Marsh and Sheridan Smith.

First night critics were divided. While many enjoyed the light-hearted approach to the production, some thought female subjugation was no laughing matter.

  • Maxwell Cooter on - Rachel Kavanaugh’s excellent production, set in a 1940s Italy, is one of the most romantic interpretations I have seen.” He commented that, in Kavanaugh’s “exuberant” staging, “this is not a play about subjugation but about a couple finding the solace of mutual love… The key strength is John Hodgkinson’s droll Petruchio. Here is no wily fortune-hunter, nor swaggering, macho braggart - but someone who finds himself caught up in adventure… And he’s well-matched by Sirine Saba’s Katherine; not so much a shrew but an unhappy young woman shunned by her father and ill-at-ease in her own family.” According to Cooter, “the action moves at a frantic pace” and “Kit Surrey’s stylish design beautifully captures the essence of a provincial Italian city.”

  • Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph - Cavendish enjoyed Kavanaugh’s “fun, warm, nimble-witted production… Here, it's Sirine Saba's Kate who resembles the victor and John Hodgkinson's Petruchio, visibly cracking up and hitting the bottle after his father's death, who's the spent force. The sparkle in Saba's eyes, together with her barely suppressed smirk, lets us see that Kate is quite capable of dragging out the humiliations until her tormentor is blue in the face. She humours him; Petruchio's response to Kate's capitulation is to collapse with pathetic gratitude at her feet. Kavanaugh's interpretation… works beautifully. By discovering a compensating kindness in all the cruelty, the director strikes the perfect balance: the usual sex-war tensions are ably stoked up, but the quick-beating heart of love is heard, too. Their chemistry as they draw closer together still leaves something to be desired, but individually, the leads impress… Among the supporting performances, too, there's much to admire… Wrap up warm, and enjoy.”

  • Lyn Gardner in the Guardian - Gardner deemed Kavanaugh’s “production of one of Shakespeare's trickiest plays more competent than many at this address: it is clearly spoken, the comedy is adroitly handled and there are strong performances.” However, she thought it was “misconceived in its attempt to turn the play into a 1940s romantic screwball comedy. It is only Katherina who is getting screwed here… The premise of all romantic comedy is that we will find the contrary, mismatched protagonists attractive even when they are doing their best to appear otherwise. But both are almost entirely charmless here, and the portrayal of Katherina as a pyjama-clad child-woman who has not yet outgrown the sibling rivalries of the nursery adds a creepy overtone to Petruchio's ‘taming’, as the mature man takes his child bride in hand.” She added: “There are odd moments when it is more interesting, particularly in the suggestion that in breaking her, he may also break himself, but on the whole Katherina's experience is no laughing matter.”

  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard - Mountford delighted in “a welcome chance to see one of Shakespeare's least-performed comedies… We can't help but admire the beauty of Kit Surrey's set. We are in 1930s Italy, and Surrey presents us with Piazza Minola, which is authentic right down to the faded, eggshell-coloured street signs. The design stands in perfect alignment with the text: this Padua is a place where men sit in the square, drink grappa and move the women around like chess pieces. No wonder Katherina (Sirine Saba) has taken up shrewery as a hobby. In this phallocentric society, she is used to her pretty, docile younger sister Bianca (Sheridan Smith) getting all the attention. This makes the spirited wooing of Petruchio (John Hodgkinson), initially after nothing more than her ample dowry, a wonderful surprise… The excellent Saba, eyes a-sparkle, shows that Kate realises it is all an elaborate game, to be played out before she settles into wedded fulfilment. The rest of the lively cast project lustily above the noise of flying things feathered and mechanical and Kavanaugh keeps it all nipping along nicely.”

    - by Caroline Ansdell