Ross Kemp doesn't live down to expectations in the Theatre Royal Plymouth and Thelma Holt production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, instead proving to be a versatile and talented actor.
Those anticipating the EastEnders bad boy to be bullish Grant all over again in tights will be surprised as Kemp's Petruchio is understated and played wittily with tongue firmly in the cheek. His stage presence is impressive, his speech clear and his place in my estimation greatly elevated.
With Nichola McAuliffe wonderfully astringent as the scolding elder daughter Katharine, this production beautifully translates the Bard's comedy into an accessible and fun drama for our times. McAuliffe too is a force to be reckoned with and, although many predicted she would be too old for the part, she's convincing as the shrewish Kate launching on a battle of wits with the only man willing to relieve her exhausted father of her sharp tongue and impossible ways.
Perhaps, though, the chemistry is lacking between these two. Certainly, I remain unclear to Kate's motivation in eventually coming to heel.
Located in 1962's Padua and Verona, Jon Bausor's wonderful set is simple but astoundingly versatile. The verdigras walls and paved street with ice cream parlour transform effortlessly into Baptista's home, the streets of Padua or Petruchio's manor.
And there are other superb touches, which lock this production firmly in the 20th century and underline the fact that Shakespeare is for all time and all people. Mark Rosenblatt's direction is almost pantomimic, as Petruchio's man Grumio (Wayne Cater) in particular is given free rein to extract every last note of hilarity from his part.
To modern audiences, the sexual power play in The Taming of the Shrew can be difficult to swallow. Here, we are left in no doubt that Petruchio sees Kate as an equal. He relishes the challenge of being perverse for perversity's sake (and the ultimate gain of a generous dowry), and sees it very much as a war of words rather than a physical combat of the Taylor/Burton ilk.
Olivia Darnley is petulant as Bianca, showing some of her sister's spirit in a most satisfactory performance while Geoffrey Freshwater's Baptista has been pushed to the edge of despair. Meanwhile suitors all - and their faithful manservants - are a motley crew again delighting the audience with their escapades.
- Karen Bussell (reviewed at Plymouth's Theatre Royal)