The first time I saw a Propeller production I spent a lot of time thinking about the implications of having an all male cast; on this occasion, it didn’t seem to make a jot of difference, except for a couple of extra laughs. From the outset Simon Scardifield’s spiky, spiky-haired, wistful Katherine was utterly believable, while Jon Trenchard’ beautifully simpering Bianca could only watched with equanimity after seeing her get smacked in face a couple of times with a cupboard door (full marks also for a couple of athletic manoeuvres in a pair of spindly heels I wouldn’t risk wearing). Tony Bell romped through the whole thing as Tranio, camping it up with a touch of the Eric Idle (it’s not just the curly hair), and a frankly terrifying Petruchio (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) dominated the stage - not the kind of person whose drink you’d want to accidentally spill in a pub. Musical interludes managed to be hilarious and also really quite impressive, though I do think that it was the height of meanness to give us such a paltry taste of Jon Trenchard’s fantastic voice.
While the rest of the action continued briskly in the same vein in the second half, the interplay between the lead characters got less and less funny, though not necessarily in a bad way, as Petruchio’s treatment of his new bride probed the fine distinction between farce and cruelty, and Katherine’s protests became increasingly feeble, like the bewildered thrashings of an injured animal. There’s no suggesting that The Taming of the Shrew is an easy play to watch, though how disturbing you find it will of course depend on your point of view. To modern sensibilities, the idea that a wife should be subservient to her husband is mercifully abhorrent, but it’s possible to try and appreciate it from the point of view of a more patriarchal age. It’s apparent though, from the reactions of Bianca and the Widow when summoned by their husbands, that women in the 16th century were not necessarily much more inclined to play the docile wife than they are today. In this instance, the use of character Christopher Sly demonstrates that the story of the taming is really something of a fantasy, and the behaviour of Katherine suggests that her transformation is not entirely as it seems. The dejection, punctuated by acts of random violence, which constitutes her initial ‘shrewishness’, is only refined by Petruchio’s treatment, as he removes her means of expressing her dissatisfaction rather than increasing that dissatisfaction itself.
This is lovely stuff, so fast-moving and funny, lovingly punctuated with such an array of talented horse-play that it’s a sure-fire success – utterly deserved.