I struggle to read Shakespeare – it’s a wordy mess for a dyslexic. My brain is easily frazzled, distracted and frustrated as I skip the words I’m simply unable to read. Blame my schooling or my parents, but, don’t worry, I found the perfect remedy – Shakespeare onstage. The actors become my tutors, performing CPR on the lifeless text in front of me. Luckily, there’s plenty of lifeguards around London – diamonds in the ruff!
April is the right month to celebrate the wonders of Shakespeare. On 23rd April, it’s Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary of his death. Pretty amazing (or disturbing), right? In the words of Maev Kennedy, “the world shares him and London claims him” so I had the perfect excuse to see Custom/Practice’s The Taming of the Shrew to commemorate this legend.
In exhilarating retelling of Shakespeares’s dark comedy, where social absurdities are turned on their head, to glorious comic effect. In this version, the men are to be tamed and the women do the taming…
I’m ashamed to admit that this was my first time watching The Taming of the Shrew. Rushing onto Wikipedia, I managed to get the gist of it and raised eyebrows towards man’s mission to tame us, women. Cue Miley Cyrus’ Can’t Be Tamed here. Bring on the battle of sexes!
Wealth, status, power and freedom, romantic and ‘real’ love, age, social hierarchy, friendship and kinship, farce, and language itself – all of these will have a bearing on how characters develop and how the plot unfolds, however one chooses to interpret the sincerity (or otherwise) of the Kate’s final declaration.
The Taming of the Shrew’s gender swap earned the creative applause and saluted the theatrical rights for women in the leading role. The play had a kinky 50 shaded whip and kick as the woman was the dominatrix and man as the submissive. Suited and
booted heeled, lust replaced emotion and need was licked with greed. The women paraded their ownership and confidence sparkled through their performances. Liking their ruffs, jewels and bling, the scene simply echoed “girls rule, boys drool”.
Impressed by Tim Bowie’s Bianca wearing kitten heels and waist cincher, the men wore makeup and their heads were bowed to their mother’s demands, Baptista Minola (Karlina Grace-Paseda). It was amusing and interesting to trick the mind that these sons were arguing over their arranged marriages. As the wild child, Kazeem Tosin Amore’s Katharina is constantly compared to his sibling’s beauty and frustrated with his fate: to wed Petruchio (Martina Laird).
Witnessing two headstrong characters collide, Petruchio and Katharina’s powerplay and comical spats begins the trouble in paradise before it’s even taken off. Merging the titans of masculinity and femininity, these scenes depict the shaming and taming of an individual.
This gender imbalance transformed the feminist dream into a nightmare though. Whilst men were packaged as pretty little bundles with the bow and tag of a victim, the dominance of one side was disturbing. We tend to forget that men can also be subjected to abusive relationships, which conjured a sudden dark cloud to thunder over the production. With this thought, the play’s comical timing paused and seriousness played. Petruchio attacks her servant Grumio (Lorenzo Martelli) as Katharina pleads for his mercy. Silence mobbed the laughter and the realisation stung the joker’s punch.
Loving her Trinidad soul, Martina Laird’s Petruchio constantly energises the stage and kicks characters off their high horses. Humiliating and jeering at characters, she has a naughty wink to stir up trouble. Breaking free from Shakespearean stereotypes, Laird stays true to her roots and creates such a tempting character. Reminding me of Naomie Harris’ Calypso (in Pirates of the Caribbean), Laird brought a fabulous, seductive delivery. Strutting in her gold jacket and chains, she possesses a fun yet authoritative spirit. With the crack of her beloved whip, she is The Taming of the Shrew’s woman in command.
Catherine Lamb’s Lucentio is another strong female character with the perfected voice of Shakespearean class. Her flirting scenes with Bianca grates upon the cheese, but their relationship blossoms into a scandalous affair. Lamb also has the ability to bounce and adapt her character as she plans to wed Bianca, thanks to her servants, Biondello (Tracy Geen) and Tranio (Kayla Meikle). The friendship between the trio enables the play to take humourous shape as Tranio pretends to be Lucentio to help her master meet Bianca.
The hilarious scene of Lucentio, Gremio (Brigid Lohrey) and Hortensio (Eugenia Caruso) battling for Bianca’s heart also earns the chuckles. Watching these three woman battle over one guy isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the cast retell this awkward moment, without the OTT overkill.
Unsure whether Beyonce’s Run The World should conclude the performance, the cast danced the dramatic tension away with some impressive moves. Clapping along to the Bey beats, it was a cool, intimate moment for the cast and audience to loosen the numb bum and transport back to the 21st Century.
After two and half hours, the cast deserved to let off some steam and celebrated the company’s three pillars: ethnicity,gender and disability, which governed their vision for The Taming of the Shrew. Tackling these topics, Custom/Practice doesn’t force you to recognise these differences, but celebrate the collaboration of identities within a single theatrical production. Now that’s what I call customised theatre practice.
Big thanks to Madelaine Bennett.