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review // The Taming of the Shrew at Homerton College, Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

Between the 28th July and 23rd August this year, Homerton college’s expansive gardens were home to Cambridge Shakespeare Festival’s production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Directed by Marco Ghelardi, this play was in the third and final phase of the festival, and performed with commendable zeal by its participants through rain, wind and shine. As we move ever further into the 21st century, it seems fair to say that one of Shakespeare’s more infamous plays becomes an ever-thornier matter to perform. At least, today it’s more difficult to justify systematic starvation with the ‘training’ of your spouse. Naturally anachronistic, but worth noting: it is no easy thing to pull off this comedy without striking a chord of unease. Yet the cast and crew must be given credit for what was, in the end, a light hearted, gleefully loud, blast into Shakespeare’s past.

The production owes its success to the comedic abilities of its actors. Charlotte Baker’s Kate was indeed shrewish, though occasionally shrill, and perhaps a little too enthusiastically violent for even this protagonist. Her strength to the viewer was not in her physicality so much as her use of facial expression. Baker’s Kate, scowling and raising her eyes heavenwards was both more credible and more enjoyable than when she was shrieking across the stage in bouts of sudden hysteria. Her subtle smiles, and mischievous accord, eventually, with Dan Dawes’ Petruchio were what won her the audience. Dawes carried Petruchio’s mercurial temper with admirable commitment, and despite the violence of it, still managed to drag that fury occasionally into lighter moments, especially when aided by Harry Winterbottom’s Hortensio and Amanda Madison’s Grumio. Madison’s Grumio was an enthusiastic performance, but could perhaps have learnt something from Jon Bolitho-Jones’ Tranio. The latter is certainly given a part more able to carry shades of character, where Grumio’s is often at best the loud, moaning punctuation to a vile master. However it would have been nice to see Madison too present that personable element to be found among the best Shakespearean performers. As Bolitho-Jones so ably illustrated, these secondary characters, like a good stand up, unfold their humour, and it is not simply a matter of shouting and tumbling, but expression, and physicality and personality.

This said, these are minor faults among a theatrically strong group of actors. Winterbottom’s awkward, lusty Hortensio carried the characters’ corners well, and Laura Dean’s Bianca was both fantastically flirtatious and self-centred. It was however Adam Baylis’ Lucentio that seized the day. His brilliantly timed, expressive reactions to all other characters on stage meant Baylis brought off his part with both professional commitment and exceptional performative skill. As perhaps the least prickly of suitors in the play, it may not be surprising, but he was certainly its heart. All in all, it was an enjoyable and well-orchestrated production.

words from Gabrielle Watts