Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Etcetera Theatre

Marking Shakespeare’s 400-year anniversary, Get Over It Productions, perform one of his classic comedies to commemorate their own 10 year stint at Camden Fringe. The Taming of the Shrew has been reimagined to satisfy the appetite of today’s audience.

As audiences enter Etcetera Theatre, a small theatre above a pub in the heart of Camden, they are immediately part of a full on rave. Flashing lights of colour, dancing shapes created by the all-female ensemble, realistically transports the audience to an old warehouse as a venue for a hedonistic night out. Set in 1989, Get Over It Productions capture the essence of rave culture to use it as a vehicle for this adaptation. Costumes, a mismatch of tie-dye t-shirts, tutus and tracksuits with dance music from the era blasting through the speakers create a truly authentic feel. It is a strikingly original idea to choose such a context for this play.

When the audience meet Katharina, the shrew (Velenzia Spearpoint) she represents the anti-establishment attitude of the time and is a vibrant whirl-wind with her gestures, dancing and dishevelled look. This milieu enhances the time of female empowerment and liberation. This sits well with the attitude portrayed by Shakespeare in this interpretation.

The adaptation sticks to Shakespeare’s original language, and with the superb acting, the setting emphasises the everyday slang that Shakespeare uses. It also feels like his words have had a lasting influence on cockney rhyming slang because of their delivery in accents. Particularly when the audience first meet Bianca’s suitors, Lucentio (Catherine Higgins) and his manservant Tranio (Isabella McGough); you can imagine they are talking in cockney rhyming slang as they create a plan to win Bianca’s heart. Pointedly sat alongside this is the fact that the discussion is very laddish and sadly also still contemporary, highlighting that attitudes to women have not changed enough from Elizabethan times for the talk to seem alien.

For a play known for it’s misogynistic outlook, this production, directed by Paula Benson subverts the mockery of women by ridiculing the male mentality. It is ironic that during Shakespeare’s era, the cast would be men whereas now the company are all women. Petruchio’s (Sass Clyde) arrogance shines through this play which is very entertaining for the audience. Cylde is mesmerising as Petruchio. When he begins his “taming” of “Katharina the cursed” Clyde resembles a predator, with slicked hair and beady eyes, using flattery as entrapment.

The significance of holding the audience as though they are at a rave throughout the performance is astonishing. The scenes link together thanks to the dance transitions and create a cinematic feel for the audience.

The comedy is heightened in this interpretation, particularly with Baptista (Paula Benson) who resembles a leader of an East End underworld in times gone by. Benson’s mannerisms and voice emphasises the character is not to be messed with. Likewise, the other characters portray their roles imaginatively and very successfully. Biondello (Rhiannon Kelly) resembles an acid taking youth as the messenger with his confusing way of relaying the messages which adds to the comedy. Pedant (Melanie Blake) the supposed father, adds to the humour despite the incongruity of the atypical casting.

By the end of the one-hour production, Petruchio successfully brainwashes Katharina so that her closing monologue is advice to other women about being obedient to their husband’s wishes. This is portrayed by the dancing cast engulfing Katharina under flashing lights as she directs her speech to the audience as though spreading the word of her new found revelation.

Overall, Get Over It’s production is an accessible way into Shakespeare especially this contemporary feminist approach.

The Taming of The Shrew is playing at Etcetera Theatre until August 27 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.

Image by Emma Steele