Pros: Faultless delivery and complete immersion into a festival atmosphere keeps the party going all evening.
Cons: Sometimes those on the sidelines trying to get the audience involved would distract from the play.
I have something of a penchant for theatres attached to pubs. It’s as if you walk in and immediately are implored to enjoy yourself. Experiencing Lazarus Theatre Company‘s Taming of the Shrew at Jack Studio Theatre, enjoy myself I certainly did. Through slick performances, hilarious audience participation and even a plate of biscuits, we were treated to a neatly trimmed and exciting version of a controversial classic.
A play-within-a-play situation always has the possibility of being jarring, particularly when one of the play’s actor/spectators might attract our attention. But a clever solution was found by this company: complete immersion into the setting. We entered the theatre from the pub with the cast squeezing their way through the queue, and followed them to a fake festival campsite in the performance space. As we sat around, the cast didn’t seem concerned with each other at all; they put glitter on our faces, tied nightclub style wristbands on us and even warned us of all the audience participation to come. The festival atmosphere was buzzing. This meant when Sly, played by Gareth Balai, first entered you’d have been forgiven for mistaking him for one of the audience.
Whilst the show revolves around teaching Sly a well deserved lesson against his sexist ways, the performances in the play-within-a-play form the bulk of the content. I can’t fault any of the cast for not being incredibly versatile; they made us laugh, and think. Particularly shining, in a troubling way, was the charming yet brutal, smooth yet rude Petruchio played by Mathew Foster. Admirable, also, was Katherina (Charlotte Dowding) who delivered a saddening performance of a gradually breaking woman – her touching final speech is incredibly poignant. The cast continually kept us involved, giving us flags to wave, lines to shout and sitting with us when not participating in the action; it was clear to see everyone enjoying themselves, but occasionally it distracted us from the action in the performance space.
The important message of Shakespeare’s Shrew is that of gender oppression; the fall of a strong female lead into an ‘obedient’ wife is really very sad. Framed in the light-hearted and relatable setting of the festival it was too easy to feel her maltreatment. Music and dance, energetically performed and excitingly lit, gave us clashing moments of contemplation; being separated from the action we could only observe while party music played as Katherina was used like a pack horse, or when all three wives (Dowding’s Katherina, Bianca played by Sabrina Laurison and Baptista played by Dawn Busy) are harassed to the tune of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. A play that has sparked controversy was used, more than 400 years since its writing, to highlight an issue that is all too prevalent in today’s society, and shows just how demeaning sexism can be.
Author: William Shakepeare
Director: Sara Reimers
Producer: Lazarus Theatre Company
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/events
Booking until: Saturday 5th August 2017