MadCap Theatre Productions’ The Taming of the Shrew is a fast paced, sharp, slick and enjoyable rollercoaster. At its best, it is exemplary comedy with some excellent leading performances and a fantastic grip on some of Shakespeare’s best confrontations and language play. The actors’ energy and grasp of the dynamic of comedy, the play’s smooth execution and the physical theatre make watching The Taming of the Shrew an exhaustive and yet rewarding experience. At its worst, however, the play delves too far into slapstick comedy with falls, jumps, hits and throws which, rather than nurture, actually distract from the language itself. As one of the sharpest of Shakepseare’s comedic scripts, the ‘taming’ of the shrew is, at times, undelivered or simply ignored by the distracting (although well performed) acrobatics of the actors in play.
The players tackled the comedy of Shakespeare masterfully, but didn’t quite attempt to tackle any more depth in the character of Katherina, the shrew. With any adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew similar questions arise. The tale itself, on sheer surface value, is uncomfortable to watch, with the physical and mental subduing of woman and her value only as a loyal servant to man, the numerous sexual innuendos and an even more questionable scene which depicts Petruchio essentially raping Katherina after throwing her around and pressing her to the floor clearly against her will.
Whilst the first half, therefore, unnerves a modern reader physically, the second half’s execution goes even further to unnerve us mentally. The intensity with which Katherina pronounces her very last speech, in which she offers her complete obedience to man as she bows down to his foot and offers her loyalty, makes any modern viewer with half a thought about women’s emancipation not merely cringe, but the sincerity with which it was delivered by Katherina makes for particularly uncomfortable viewing.
It seems, however, as if there is a lot more to be done with Katherina than was allowed for by the MadCap production. There is scope in the script to justify a more critical interpretation, such as in the sardonic nature of Katherina’s initial remarks upon subservience. However by the very end we see an outright character destruction, without any sadness or even regret expressed by Katherina. The lack of stage direction, or any form of explanation on Shakespeare’s behalf, leaves The Taming of the Shrew with room to be potentially enacted as a play of remorse rather than one of joy at subordination. Katherina was here well performed, indeed, but as a shrew who discovers her acquiescence not as an independent woman who discovers the limitations of her own gendered experience. She is not regretful, nor sarcastic, nor does she express a tinge of sadness.
Perhaps MadCap Productions may have seen this as an authentic depiction of a fun, snappy, and light bit of comedy. It nonetheless remains seemingly impoverished for the adaptation of anything with such questionable ideology to fail to address the serious moral questions that arise, particularly with Petruchio’s choice to starve his own wife to force her into obedience. There is perhaps a lot more expected of art today than ever before, but even more to the point there is a lot more responsibility which lies on actors’ shoulders. Thus for the children in attendance, the immaculate use of slapstick can go too far towards excusing what is, at heart, sexual assault.
Do not get me wrong. This is a comedy. And so it is delivered – as light entertainment. MadCap Productions are clearly excellent at putting comedy on, and the actors nothing but commendable in performing it. It is only if we take the former statement for granted, however, that we can enjoy this performance care free. If any more weight given to The Taming of the Shrew as a play about much more than the occasional word play and ‘taming’ of a petulant woman, then what to do with such outdated attitudes arises all over again. Even without ascribing any unnatural or supernatural genius to Shakespeare, however, it seems to me that The Taming of the Shrew needs to be addressed more critically.
MadCap Theatre Productions will deliver a good night out, with many giggles and outright laughs, and a fast paced enjoyable performance of a comedy with no strings attached. For the viewer who expects the performance to acknowledge the more problematic questions underlying the reassertion or simple reiteration of 16th and 17 century ideals, however, this will be a disappointing, if not uncomfortable, experience.
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