Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Barbican

Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a play well-loved; it has brought us 10 Things I Hate About You and numerous other stage and screen adaptations that have introduced the problematic comedy to the modern age. In this inclusive adaptation, the world is flipped on its head as man becomes woman, Bianca becomes Bianco and, much to mine own delight, Katherine remains Katherine. 

The tale is much the same, three suitors wish to woo Baptista Minola’s, the overruling matriarch of the household’s, son Bianco. Yet, until Katherine, the titular shrew and problematic other son of Minola, consents to marry Bianco too must remain single. 

As daughter becomes son and father becomes mother new dynamics of dominance are introduced too. The Taming of the Shrew has always been a sexist tale of female submission, albeit one with a lot of comedy, where husband aims to subdue his fiery wife and turn her into a weak follower. However, as Kate becomes changed a man, women’s true potential is (almost) unleashed unto the stage. 

Pretuchia, Kate’s only suitor, is a bawdy young lady wishing to travel the world after the passing of her mother. She is unlike most female characters constructed by Shakespeare, apart from perhaps the original Katherine herself. Claire Price brings Pretuchia alive with an unforgiving abandon, she swaggers around stage, unafraid to look all men in the eye and saving no time in the beating of her servant, and ultimately Kate herself. 

However, while it is refreshing to have women as the easily accepted masters of the house, seeing as one gender is still utterly repressed there is a lack of impact, it is still very much a play about power, though perhaps the men in the audience feel differently toward their newfound vulnerability. Furthermore, the play relies on stereotypical characteristics to create a new humour surrounding the reversed gender roles. Bianco’s luxurious long hair and silly nature is his comedic crux, and rather than simply allowing for a realistic array of women they are all lewd and boisterous. The adaptation does not go far enough in its subversion of the typical, it seems that they may as well have women play men and men play women instead of changing the sex of the characters. 

Simply put, comedy is the theme of the evening, one of Bianco’s suitors seemingly glides around stage on a hidden hoverboard and another is given their own musical chime whenever they strike a pose. While it is indeed a joyful and refreshing evening, the play lacks a continually comedic atmosphere, and on some occasions the humour feels thin. While I’m hoping for a play of ground-breaking significance, Shakespeare as never seen before, I am left instead with a feeling of simple content and good humour. 

The Taming of the Shrew is playing the Barbican until 18 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Barbican website.