26/2/09, RSC at the Novello.
(Written by Penelope)
I have a confession to make. I left at the interval. This production is such a mess that it made me unwilling to leave my glass of wine at the bar and return to my seat. That's a first.
We all know the play isn't exactly written for the 21st century. It's deeply misogynistic and the two women characters - Katherine and Bianca - are symbols of a late 16th century woman's unhappy lot. Katherine is the property of first her father, Baptista, and then her husband, Petruchio. It's enough to make anyone squirm.
A clever production would make you value Katherine's early spirited independence and rejection of convention. Instead, what you get in this RSC production is crass, crude and grim. I was surrounded by uncomfortable, nervous laughter at some of the more graphic aspects of the director Conall Morrison's interpretation.
Michelle Gomez as Katherine is expected to endure too much 'mock' physical abuse and Stephen Boxer as Petruchio makes far too many lewd gestures with beer bottles, food and items of clothing. There is nothing subtle, knowing or satirical.
I think the actors do their best, despite the director's interpretation. Gomez (best known for her comedy role in the Green Wing) is lively and spirited. Petruchio isn't an easy character to like and Boxer succeeds in making him cunning, manipulative and two faced.
But while they and the rest of the cast may be talented, they are totally let down by a production which should have been buried in Stratford and not brought to London.
Of course, things may have dramatically improved in the second half, but I fear not. The RSC can, and almost always does, do so much better than this. The theatre was half empty - and I can't say I'm surprised.