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The Taming of the Shrew, The Rose Theatre, Bankside – Review

William Shakespeare

Directed by Pamela Schermann

Pros: A fantastic adaptation of Shakespeare with a very poignant modern twist and a wonderful cast!
Cons: There are a lot of physical limitations to the venue, including a lack of toilets.
Our Verdict: A very interesting take on how something written so long ago still has devastating impact when considered in today’s society.
Credit: Robert Piwko
Pamela Schermann’s The Taming of The Shrew presents an interesting idea. Take the classic Shakespeare play and perform it in its original Shakespearean prose, but add in modern dress and ideas of human trafficking to illustrate a modern interpretation of human ownership. Bianca and Katharina are transported in this interpretation to a modern Madam’s brothel to examine the buying and selling women in today’s world.
This theme of old but new is nicely reflected in the choice of venue. The Rose Bankside sits on the archaeological remains of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre. The theatre is a bit hard to find, but there are helpful signs around the neighbourhood to steer you in the right direction. Once inside there are lots of interesting artefacts to have a look at whilst you are waiting for the show to begin, as well as a fairly well-stocked cash bar.
Now there is one pretty big thing you have to take on board when seeing a show here – there are no toilet facilities. None. They recommend you make the short walk to the Globe Theatre to use their facilities. Fine, but once you leave you then you cannot re-enter the theatre! The running time is 1hr 40mins with no interval – and upon hearing this I promptly wished I hadn’t had a huge drink five minutes before arriving, and that my stomach flu and I had stayed home. Whoops. Fortunately however, the performance is so engaging and so absorbing, that the idea of stepping out of the theatre even for a minute is unfathomable. 
The opening scene does well to illustrate the modern human trafficking theme. Bianca and Katharina are dressed as escorts while the sharply attired and business-minded Alexa Brown as Baptista moves around them negotiating their ‘sale’ (marriage). Wisely, given the direction of this version, Brown displays no sympathy towards her elder daughter, while showing slight affection towards the younger, prettier, cash-cow. Her character stays sharp as a tack for the duration of the play.
The play is well-acted by all involved. There are no weak links here. James MacLaren is delightful as a bumbling and energetic Hortensio, and Paul Valentine is very funny as Grumio. Alexa Hartley is perfectly cast as Bianca – beautiful, charming, and full of grace. Tom Phillips as Tranio gives a very enjoyable performance, and mixes well from conniving to genuinely very funny. 
The stand-out performances come from Benedict Salter as Petruchio and Carmina Kato as Katharina. Both start innocuously enough, but when their characters begin to unravel, the two absolutely shine. Given the intimacy of the venue – you really are so close to the action – Petruchio’s rage is absolutely terrifying. He yells, throws tables, and the audience experience every shudder, every tremble and every flinch that Katharina feels. His madness is utterly compelling, and matches brilliantly with Katharina’s deteriorating state of mind. Kato is at her best when she is reacting to Petruchio’s cruelty, and portrays the fear and breaking down of Katharina in a flawless manner. She trembles and crawls across the ground and as she does she re-defines desperation and defeat. 
The venue adds an interesting layer to the performance. I had imagined that we would be in and amongst the ruins of the Rose – instead it takes place on a platform above the ruins (with the exception of one absolutely stunning scene where Katharina uses the ruins as a lake). It is very chilly inside, but it is a wonderful opportunity for the audience to experience Shakespeare up close.
If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you must go see this wonderful modern take. If you are not a fan of Shakespeare, I highly recommend you give this a try. The performance is wonderfully easy to follow along with – made so by a delightful cast. This is good theatre – and it might be one of the best interpretations of Shakespeare that this reviewer has ever seen.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Taming of The Shrew runs at The Rose, Bankside until 28th September 2013.
Box Office: 0207 261 9565 or book online at Rose Theatre.

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