The RSC’s gender-swapping production comes to The Barbican.
Leaving the leafy city of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home, the RSC is bringing The Taming of the Shrew to London for an 11-week run at the Barbican Theatre this autumn.
One of Shakespeare’s early plays, The Taming of the Shrew has been one of his most hotly debated. Its portrayal of gender politics, at the time of writing and in the centuries since, has divided Shakespearean scholars. Turning gender on its head is not likely to bring them together, but it does reveal a stunning piece with new ground to explore for even the most knowledgeable Shakespeare fans.
Watch the cast of The Taming of the Shrew discuss the production’s costumes below:
What is The Taming of the Shrew about?
Set in a re-imagined Elizabethan matriarchy, The Taming of the Shrew turns the old story on its head. Baptista wishes to marry off her sons, but only to the richest and most eligible women. She will not part with the younger brother, Bianco, who has many suitors, until the elder Katherine is matched. This proves to be a problem when the whole of Padua thinks him an unmarriable shrew.
Enter Petruchia, a single woman determined to marry a rich man. She is friends with Hortensia, a suitor to Bianco, and the two hatch a plan to wed the intolerable Katherine to make his brother available. Petruchio accepts the match for the money and the challenge.
Bianco’s two suitors, Hortensia and Gremia, have a new rival. Lucentia has come to Padua to go to university but instead she falls for Bianco at first sight. By switching places with her servant Trania, she enters Baptista’s house under the disguise as Bianco’s tutor to get closer to him.
Petruchia and Katherine wed, and the eponymous taming begins…
Who is in The Taming of the Shrew?
Scene stealing Petruchia is played by Claire Price with her long-suffering man servant, Grumio, played by Richard Clews.
The brothers Katherine and Bianco are played by Joseph Arkley and James Cooney respectively with Amanda Harris playing their mother, Baptista.
Vying for Bianco’s affections are Sophie Stanton as Gremia and Amelia Donkor as Hortensia. Their plans are scuppered by Lucentia played by Emily Johnstone with the help of her servant, Trania, played by Laura Elsworthy.
What can audiences expect from The Taming of the Shrew?
Gender flipped and gender-blind casting in Shakespeare’s productions is not new. It’s not even rare. Yet this production of The Taming of the Shrew does something completely different with this tried and true casting choice.
Every woman in the leads traditionally written for men do not deny their femininity. Bucking the trend of actresses in doublet and hose or masculine, modern costuming, the women float around the stage in sumptuous Elizabethan gowns taking up as much space as possible. Their bearing, their voice and the swords at their hips are constant reminders who is in charge in this world.
Those who know the play well will love the subtle effect the gender switch has on the text and not just on the characters’ names (a man’s “tail” is very different to a woman’s for example.) The direction also banishes all assumptions that the abuse afflicted on Katherine is more excusable with a man in her shoes. This production doesn’t pull punches and, where the audience would expect to laugh at a pathetic man, they see an abject soul – and all the women who portrayed him before.
Through all this challenging staging that leaves audiences thinking even after they leave the theatre, it is still a Shakespeare comedy first and foremost. Every actor’s physicality and demeanour can bring a laugh without a word.
What are the critics saying?
“A landmark production… delightful to see the RSC in full flow” ★★★★ – Evening Standard.
What else do I need to know?
The Taming of the Shrew runs from 5 November 2019 to 18 January 2020 at The Barbican Theatre, London.
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes including a 20-minute interval
Get your tickets for The Taming Of The Shrew at London’s Barbican Theatre through Ticketmaster.co.uk.
The RSC’s London production of The Taming of the Shrew is kindly supported by Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and the London Community Foundation.