As a theatre-hound, I've been lucky to have a pretty good hit rate with my theatre jaunts. Once in a while, though, a piece of theatre absolutely blows me away. The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Taming of the Shrew is one of them.
Shakespeare's text in this play is very difficult to make relevant in today's society. Petruchio's casual misogymy and his cruel humilitation, starvation and torture of Kate in order to 'tame' her are really hard for a modern audience to stomach. This production takes an unusual interpretation; Kate (a brilliantly haughty Michelle Gomez), instead of being submissive and grateful for Petruchio's love, turns into an automaton who does everything at Petruchio's bidding. Her deadened obedience leaves you wondering whether it was truly worth 'winning the wager' if he is married to such a spiritless shell. Then, as Petruchio is stripped to become the vagrant Sly and his stinky clothes are contemptuously thrown back at him, you discover that in fact Kate comes out with the upper hand. This production's fluid time-switching and role-switching gave me a whole new perspective on the play, renewing my faith in its ability to be relevant to gender relations in modern times.
With RSC, you expect the actors to be of a high standard, so the other standout for me was the inventive set. The players spilled out of their truck into a cute candy-cane representation of Italianate architecture, with waist-high buildings transforming into tables and drawers and revealing platters and fruit bowls. A four-sided turning tower took on different edifices of different time periods, from a Renaissance tower to a seedy pole-dancing nightclub. Also, the bright costuming ranged from jewel-slashed breeches to modern day suits and ties as the play progressed.
All in all, a highly enjoyable and engrossing piece of theatre and one of my highlights for 2009. Go and see this!