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Twelfth Night / The Taming of the Shrew (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The tremendous all-male Shakespeare company Propeller revisit their 06/07 productions of Twelfth Night and The Taming of The Shrew for their current tour.

The striking Vince Leigh earns his keep with a double lead – as loutish fortune-hunter Petruchio and laddish drunk Sir Toby Belch.

His Sir Toby is central to the obvious comedy of Twelfth Night as Olivia (the coquettish Ben Allen) rejects the melodramatic Duke (a swashbuckling Christopher Heyward) but swiftly jettisons her mourning to pursue sweet newcomer cross dresser Cesario/Viola (Joseph Chance).

John MacDougall is wonderfully comic as toff Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Chris Myles peevish and randy as Malvolio resplendent in yellow fishnets and bondage pouch, and Gary Shelford a sly minx as the scheming Maria while Liam O’Brien’s dour Feste with an eye to the main chance and a melodic voice is beautifully understated.

With slapstick – the box tree scene particularly is brilliantly funny - and clever wit, there is forever a brooding presence with storm cloud backdrop and masked figures constantly watching and waiting.

As ever with this multi-talented company, the musical interludes are superb and some interesting sounds are produced with wine glasses and cut down bird cages joining the more conventional instruments.

Michael Pavelka’s set design featuring double-sided wardrobes and a high chest of drawers is used for both productions with great versatility – with added gloom for Twelfth Night and with added chairs for Taming of the Shrew.

A fun evening.

I wish I could say the same for Taming of The Shrew. There is no denying that the company are convincing in role but perhaps Dan Wheeler is just too good as the broken Kate, flinching whenever her abusive husband comes close.

His journey from punk, angst-ridden Katherine to subservient wife is painful to watch. I found it most disturbing – which is perhaps testament to the powerful portrayal – but I was disappointed in my expectation (and excitement) that Edward Hall would make the piece relevant to modern times.

Leigh is compelling as the laddish, rich wife-seeker but with no chemistry between the protagonists (which is clearly possible in an all-male company given the sizzle between Orsino and Viola in Twelfth Night) and no indication of his ritual humiliation being tongue-in-cheek or grounded in love, this is just too unpleasant.

With sterling efforts to lift the mood, Dougall is a lecherous Gremio, Arthur Wilson a siren as the favoured Bianca and the competition between blundering Hortensio (Shelford) and the wily Lucentio (Finn Hanlon) – not to mention Petruchio’s wedding garb - serve to lighten an otherwise very dark piece.

Interesting but unsettling.


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