|Lucia McAnespie (Katherine), David Davies (Petruchio) and Tom Kay (Hortensio)|
What could be better than watching Shakespeare performed on the picturesque playing fields of Reading School, with the evening sun gently warming your back and a glass of wine in your hand? Well, that was a moot point tonight, as the evening began with a desperate plea for the huddled audience to lower their umbrellas, at which point more than one bedraggled spectator decided they had already had enough.
It is thus to the enormous credit of the GB Theatre Company that they managed to perform at all, let alone that they put on such a good show. On multiple occasions actors slipped, slid and fell on the soaking stage, but each time they managed to see the funny side, as indeed they did with the whole play. It goes without saying that humour is indispensable in comedy, but where some adaptations of Shakespeare rely on their audience to simply ‘get the jokes’, this production ran the comic gamut from start to finish, from well-staged wordplay to nudging innuendo to those clearly unplanned slapstick falls.
The Taming of the Shrew is a difficult play to perform, as Alfred Hickling noted a decade ago ‘most modern directors do not so much produce The Taming of the Shrew as construct elaborate apologies for it’. In this light the first act in particular was refreshing in its unashamed farcical humour: doubts about the treatment of Katherine were flattened by her gleeful misbehaviour, and Tom Kay (Hortensio) and David Davies (Petruchio) extracted every inch of comedy from their roles; Kay in particular was an inspired Gap-Yah influenced suitor.
That the second half was weaker is probably as much Shakespeare’s fault (or rather Renaissance morality’s) as the company, but their aggressive staging could not mask the sadistic nature of the plot: as likeable as Davies’ Petruchio was, his treatment of Katherine still amounts to deprivation, and her eventual capitulation seems more like Stockholm Syndrome than true love. Nonetheless the jokes kept flowing, pushing any nagging discomfort to the sidelines, albeit at the expense of any consistency in Lucia McAnespie’s redeemed heroine.
As with last year (the company performed Twelfth Night at the same venue) it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with the company’s obvious comic strengths supplemented by strong performances from Lennox Greaves as the girls’ father Baptista, and from Dermot Canavan as Tranio. The only shame was that so few people braved the elements to see it – a much larger crowd is merited for the remaining performances.