Review: The Taming of the Shrew, RSC, Richmond Theatre ****

To rescue The Taming of the Shrew from the charges of misogyny and reinvent it as a sexy, sharp comedy takes some prodigious talent.  Thankfully, Lucy Bailey is such a one, and in her deft hands, the RSC has sufficiently redrawn the production to allow the audience to leave the theatre hot under the collar from the sensual shenanigans on stage, rather than bristling with anger at Kate’s subjugation.

Set in a richly drawn 1940’s era, this Shrew seems remarkably modern and fresh, crisp as the day it was penned.  Bailey wisely focusses her energy on detailing Kate and Petruchio as two outsiders, set apart from the conventional mores of society.

Lisa Dillon’s brawling, mewling Kate is feral of physicality and hoarse of voice as she flings herself around the stage in impotent rage.  Smoking, drinking, urinating in public and covering her hungover eyes with large, dark glasses, Dillon nonetheless bravely exposes a childlike frustration at her family, and the world, which only Petruchio can see and harness.

Caves has enough virile masculinity to generate electricity for half of England

Petruchio, magnificently played by David Caves, pads around Dillon like a lion closing in on his prey, his braggadocio belying his tender heart.  Their voarcious sexual chemistry is the crux on which Bailey has rooted the whole production; Kate’s eventual ‘subjugation’ is no more than the final game in an elaborate, tortuous and thrilling foreplay, the climax of which, we are left in no doubt, will be licentiously exciting.  Caves has enough virile masculinity to generate electricity for half of England, and his lilting Irish brogue rejoices in the wit of Shakespeare’s language, charming the audience throughout.

Ruth Sutcliffe’s set resembles nothing so much as an enormous bed, and Bailey takes every opportunity to remind us that in this world of sexual aggression and teasing, it is what we cannot see, what takes place under the covers, that is the more amusing and exciting.  The Induction, often cut, here is lucid and hilarious.  Nick Holder’s grotesque Sly is a joyful Master of Ceremonies, dipping in and out of the action of the play, while pursuing his own lusty pursuits throughout.

There is excellent work from Gavin Fowler as Lucentio and Elizabeth Cadwaller as the increasingly affected and irritating Bianca, while elsewhere Huss Garbiya and Simon Gregor both shine as Biondello and Grumio respectively.

While Kate’s final monologue still leaves a slight bitter taste in the mouth, Bailey’s Shrew is joyous, uplifting and raucously sexy.  Audiences have always loved the tale of the feisty, sassy shrew and now Bailey gives a modern perspective to the story.  It is less The Taming of the Shrew, and far more The Titillation of the Shrew and therein is it wittier, bawdier, and ultimately more touching than one could hope for.

**** 4 stars
Runs until  31st March at Bath, Theatre Royal
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