6 July 2013

The Taming of the Shrew at Hampstead Theatre

I could have gone to the Rose in Kingston to see Propeller, where I first encountered them last year in the excellent The Winter's Tale, but Hampstead Theatre told me that they were touring first and I had already booked to see them there before the Rose let me know that they were going there too.

The big big attraction of Propeller is that they present Shakespeare sympathetically to the original performances with an all male cast, bawdy humour and direct interaction with the audience.

The attraction of Hampstead Theatre is that it is well designed, cosy and has good facilities. The design means that all the seats have good views, the cosiness means being close to the stage and immersed in the action, and the good services mean a decent coffee and a slice of cake beforehand.

This was only my second visit to this theatre so the seating arrangements still needed some figuring out and as the front row of the circle was taken I went for the mezzanine level behind the stalls and had an excellent view.

The Taming of the Shrew is an out-and-out comedy, provided you ignore the heavily outdated attitude to women that it portrays, i.e. women are submissive to their husbands to the extent to being subservient.

The large part of The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play where a drunken rascal is convinced by his friends that he is really a lord who play this trick on him in revenge for his behaviour. This is a familiar Shakespeare ploy as are the disguises with the master and servant swapping roles.

Propeller really understand Shakespeare and they bring the story to life in a way that studying the play at school never did. It is rich, playful and a great deal of fun. The laughs come thick and strong with the humour pulled from the script with excellent acting, with top marks to the man playing Katherina the shrew, and brilliant staging that made full use of the whole cast and a few simple props.

The Taming of the Shrew was a truly wondrous performance. This is how Shakespeare should be done.

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