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Posted by : Timothy Ramsden on Aug 15, 2005 - 02:54 PM Archive

by William Shakespeare

Theatre Alba mpr at Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens To 28 August 2005
Thu-Sun 7.45pm
Runs 2hr 20min One interval

TICKETS: 0131556 9579
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 August

A bold, detailed and well-acted Shrew.
Even on a cool evening, Duddingston Manse's lawn provides a near-idyllic open-air setting for Theatre Alba's Shrew. With 20s dance music and a whiff of the ante-bellum South, director Charles Nowosielski's American setting turns out apt, with surface courtesy over eyeballing ruthlessness, and restrictive social routines repeatedly frustrating Corinne Harris's free-spirited, essentially good-natured Katherina. The clue to the character's clear, "I see a woman may be made a fool if she hasn't the spirit to resist."

This Kate's merely teasing sister Bianca till she's provoked by the younger sibling's hypocrisy. Then things turn serious. Naomi Bird's Bianca may have the blonde hair, cutesy dress and smiles but she's a steel-frame personality, its feminine surfaces used to manipulate men. It's a reading consistent with her final disobedience as a new-married wife.

We're not surprised in King Lear that Gloucester's speaking about his son Edmund as if he's not there angers the lad. Katherina's similarly 'invisible' here as Baptista discusses her, and when he walks out on her, preferring to visit Bianca, the origin of Katherine's frustration and anger becomes evident.

Without shifts of set and lighting between scenes the wooing of Bianca stands in stark parallel to Petruchio's of Kate. However rough this is, it has a frankness on both sides in healthy contrast to the secrecy and conventional games of a courtship where Bianca keeps a simultaneous eye on both suitors.

There's a reasonable quality to James Sutherland's Petruchio, a gringo alongside his bullet-bearing Mexican servant, both turning up as Indian braves for the wedding to Kate. It brings an openness to this society, while the scenes where Petruchio mistreats his wife are played down with obviously fake food and a household staffed with the likes of a Condoleeza and Mary-Lou lightening the mood.

And there's a sympathy between the couple, reflected in the music's shifts into gentle modality for their scenes. Harris's smiles recognise Petruchio's wit; her later refusal to "Kiss me Kate" is spoken with an embarrassed hush - even a free-spirited southern belle doesn't kiss in the street.

But smiles, as so often, can cover things, and there's a problematic quality these days. Sutherland may be quietly rational as he asks if anyone knows another way to deal with a Kate, he may speak of his methods bringing a peaceful home-life with the sense that he means there will be 2 well-adjusted people, and smoothly sweep up Kate's hand as she places it under his foot, lowering himself to her height as he does so.

Still, she's just obeyed his order to throw her hat away as it displeases him, a moment recalled by a news report within half-an-hour of curtain down about pressures on women in Iraq to wear head-coverings. If Shakespeare's the world's dramatist, here are resonances that now need to be incorporated into our Shrews. Long live Kate, but take care Petruchio.

Sly/Pedant: Gavin Bolus
Hostess/Haberdasher: Fiona Harvey
Barman/Tailor: Patrick Griffin
Lucentio: Robert Williamson
Tranio: Marcus McLeod
Baptista: Alex McSherry
Gremio: Keith Hutcheon
Katherina: Corinne Harris
Bianca: Naomi Bird
Hortensio: James Tennant
Biondello: Nikki Logan
Petruchio: James Sutherland
Grumio: Alan McQueen
Curtis: Frank Skelly
Vicentio: Alan Ireby
Widow: Lynn Rogers
Director: Charle Nowosiwlski
Musical Director: John Sampson
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