Pros: A daring and fun Swinging Sixties version of Shakespeare’s most farcical comedy. Fun to watch.
Cons: Some transitions come across as forced and some of the acting appears uneasy.
Shakespeare’s most controversial and farcical comedy set in 1960’s East End London? Yes, please! Immersion Theatre is not new to having Britain’s most loved playwright happily time-travel to bring us all of his usual mischief, mistaken identities, dramatic love and death scenes bang into modern days. Directed by James Tobias and Amy Gunn, this version tells you right away where the action is. As the stage opens up on a foggy London night, where Baptista waits eagerly for a Cockney-tongued version of Grumio, under an E1 London sign and a traditional pub light. Mind you, their names still sound pretty Italian and they all seem to come from the Bel Paese, but nevermind!
Admittedly, this is a very difficult play to adapt to modern audiences – the storyline being loaded with sexism and outright marital abuse, right from the title, might be a tad out of place in politically correct 21st Century. However, we all know that good ol’ William never meant to be sexist, of course – and Immersion Theatre manages this particularly tricky bit with reassuring ease. 1960’s London ought to be a tad harsher than romantic 16th Century Italy and the Quadrophenia-style atmosphere, complete with musical themes the likes of Aretha Franklin, lend amusingly well to the purpose. Thin ties on pin-stripes, pink boots and tiny dresses do no harm either!
The original version is a whopping three-plus hours long and about thirty-actors strong. Thankfully, this Taming is sized down to a manageable two hours and just nine in their ensemble. My main worry was how the use of language would have been adapted to the swinging sixties. Even though at times the lyrics felt a touch out of place (or time!), to my relief, most of the cast managed the transition well, some brilliantly even. James Clifford’s Petruchio was formidable in every way. He was at ease in both his role as a womanizer and a Krays reborn – not even a last minute leg injury did anything to detract from his performance. Similarly, Rochelle Parry’s “Shrew” Katherine managed the transition from a boyish tug capable of torturing her hated younger sister Bianca (Lisa Lynn) to the tamest and compliant wife. Naturally, the transition is somehow abrupt in this shorter version but you get the gist, after she is left starving and begging for a few scenes. I thought she really enjoyed this role, which can’t be a bad thing.
The sidestory – basically who’s going to marry sexy Bianca – is lots of fun, as it ought to be. Hortensio was my personal favourite, goofy yet adorable as if coming straight out of a John Travolta movie. Liam Mulvey gives another strong performance as Grumio/Vincentio, also managing a good language impression. Acting experience shines through Sophie Doherty’s Baptista, the mother of the brides, whose elegant performance had a soothing grounding action on stage, perhaps matched by the jolly Jack Harding in a triple role, including a female (Tranio/Curtis/Widow). And as the finale approaches and the men are betting on their newlywed’s compliance, we all know what the shrew will do, don’t we?
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: James Tobias and Amy Gunn
Produced by: Immersion Theatre
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://brockleyjackstudio.ticketsource.co.uk/events
Booking Until: 18th October 2014 (followed by a National Tour).