The Taming of the Shrew is a controversial Shakespeare classic. With central themes of power and gender, it is a hard text to tackle. Is it a complicated love story? Or the breaking of a woman within patriarchal society? Edinburgh University’s Shakespeare Company have clearly chosen the latter. At moments embracing the humour and chaotic silliness, it doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable and the distressing.
The question of whether The Taming of the Shrew advocates for or critiques gender inequality is a discussion too long for this review. Directors have taken different approaches from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 adaptation to Gil Junger’s modern ’10 things I hate about you.’ Director Tilly Botsford clearly wants to denounce Petruchio’s abuse and leave us with a sense of the injustice faced.
I believe they were correct to choose this bold stance, however there was nothing bold about this production. Shakespeare’s work has come a long way from the Globe. We have so many more options now, options that previous EUSC productions have embraced: stunning set design, realistic fight scenes, beautiful costumes. But this production was rather disappointing. Scraping Shakespeare back to its bare bones is of course a valued choice, but only with a cast strong enough to support the modern audience’s expectations. This is a huge ask of a student production.
The set consisted of iron poles forming an arch and three stairs cutting into the already small stage area. A setting was never fully achieved. Outside and inside did not differ in lighting and the space remained the same. The colour scheme was dull with only a couple splashes of red. I kept waiting for a change or an exciting new dynamic, but none came.
So the only thing I could concentrate on was the cast. As ever they impressed me with their professionalism, but often the heavy text needed breathing space. Wonderful sections were often rushed. Surprisingly, the supporting cast often outshone the crucial characters. Anna Swinton flailed around but never found an emotional connection to Katherina.
The ensemble on the other hand, gave us much-needed laughs. Camilla Makhmudi stole every scene she was in, and Marina Jodrell’s physicality was perfection. Levi Mattey’s Tranio and Callum Pope’s Biondello brought a fresh and vibrant energy to the room. Their performance was detailed and confident. However, it was Sally Macalister who gave the stand-out performance for me as Gremio. Clear and focused, Macalister made use of every word she spoke and truly owned her character.
For the hard-hitting finale, instead of making a statement, we were left in silence, watching three women frozen on stage. Perhaps the company were too fearful of disrupting the original canon, but this production was crying out for bolder choices.