No one would ever admit it but watching a Shakespeare play can sometimes be a chore. By the time you’ve sorted thee from thou and worked out that the brother of the servant of the prince is actually his sister dressed as a man, then you’ve lost the thread and are hoping no one notices when you check the plot synopsis on your iPhone during the interval.
But for actors, directors and theatre makers he’s a dream: there is plenty of material to work with and the language lends itself to a multitude of interpretations. It’s their duty to bring the words to life, not just in the speaking but in the staging of the play. The team from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, under the direction of the experienced Bill Alexander, have done well at this. Alexander has remodelled, refashioned and adapted The Shrew, with it’s comedy, courtship and tricky moral themes, into a watchable and satisfying performance.
Set, kind of, in modern times, the ‘play within a play’ is given an even more complex structure in this production. Alexander has added layers to the layers, combined and changed roles, and supplemented script. Characters watch actors pretending to be others… and we watch them. The humour is brought to light and wonderfully executed by the cast. The wit is wrung from every line, there is physical theatre and bawdy interplay. Hannah Livingstone is delightfully brazen as the mother of Kate, and Marco Young takes his opportunities well as Hortensio, particularly when Hortensio is pretending to be Litio the music tutor. Charlotte Wyatt (Biondella) plays the fool competently. The mood darkens as the second half progresses. The relationships between the ‘watchers’ and the ‘actors’ becomes vaguer; the themes are overlapped and obscured, forcing us to consider them more deeply. The humour becomes tension.
The staging is skilful: the actors use all the generous performance area at Circomedia, props and effects are efficiently utilised, and the lighting and sound is judicious and effective. There is plenty of energy and confidence from all the cast; with animated or composed delivery of the script where needed. George Readshaw brings just enough madness and a bit swagger to Petruchio, and Kate Reid has the necessary sourness for Katherina whilst adding an intelligent slant. The couple have some entertaining moments duelling words, although the depth of their relationship is not exposed as in other productions, but it’s not missed.
Beau Holland should be praised for bringing presence to Bianca, Felix Garcia Guyer is appropriately graceless as Grumio and Alexander Mushore adds a cool and unsettling aura to his part. Pedro Leandro and Bonnie Baddoo are attractive and charismatic in minor roles while Gerald Gyimah garners our compassion successfully as Christopher Sly.
Each audience member will probably have their own thoughts around the ethics, morals and merits of this play but we leave entertained, gratified and agreeably perplexed. The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School team have done their job admirably. ★★★★☆ Adrian Mantle 18th February 2018