Lazarus Theatre Company has put on The Taming of the Shrew at the Brockley Jack and it is a delightful adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy. As we are queuing up to go inside, the cast members come in with us, dressed up in festival gear and with glitter on their faces. As we take our seats around the grassy stage the people in the front rows are given jobs to do at certain points in the play later, and I grasp my bubbles excitedly to myself as a cast member paints my cheek silver.
The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play and, although not usually performed that way, this aspect is done deftly. As we first settle in to our seats the audience in general is challenged to stand up to perform a party piece. A few brave people even do so. When a man walks in late and attempts to tell some pretty sexist jokes, we are swept along with it and boo him quite naturally before we realise that this is in fact the character Christopher Sly (Gareth Balai). We then sit together with Sly to watch the framed tale of Katherina or Kate (the ‘shrew’, played by Charlotte Dowding) who needs to marry first, out of her and her sister Bianca (Sabrina Laurison). Petruchio (Mathew Foster) happens to be looking for a wife, and offers to marry Kate, despite the fact that she is the strongest-willed woman in Padua, which will leave the path clear for his friend Hortensio (Shiv Rabheru) to woo Bianca. Petruchio is an arrogant man, and the ‘taming’ of Katherina is usually why this play is criticised as a misogynist play – he tauntingly attempts to break her will. However in this adaptation by Sara Reimers (also director), the themes of gender and who gets to define identity are brought out for discussion, amongst the comedy and fun, and it is Kate who retains her dignity right to the end.
The cast is excellent. Foster as Petruchio is soave and witty, despite his obvious bad traits, and his opposite Rabheru as Hortensio is charming and entertaining. CJ de Mooi hams it up beautifully as Gremio, and Dowding is very strong. The staging is great fun – sharing snacks with the cast, waving flags and blowing bubbles from all sides on the wedding day – and it is right up to date with pop up tents and the modern soundtrack. I am on Kate’s side the minute she calls out for Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke’s famously misogynist song) to be stopped, when three of the women were dancing to it.
This is an abridged version of the story written over 400 years ago, which introduces it to a new audience. The cast is enjoyable and engaging, and Lazarus Theatre Company ensures that we go home thinking hard about gender identity at the same time as how to remove the silver glitter from our cheekbones.
hattydaze rating: ****/*****
We went to see The Taming of the Shrew courtesy of press tickets. The Taming of the Shrew is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until Saturday 5th August 2017. For more details see the theatre website.