But is it that far-off and long-ago? A troublesome one, is the Shrew: though a comedy, its central theme focuses on the more unpleasant and controversial aspects of male/female relationships - not exactly standard comic fare - and ends with a conclusion that's about as likely to confuse today's audience as it would have confused many Elizabethan theatre-goers. Presenting the tale as a play-within-a-play performed to a deluded drunkard does (as the programme helpfully points out) raise the question of how seriously old Will wanted us to take its message - whilst other ambiguities, surprises and loose ends may be there to deliberately cloud any message beyond firm interpretation. What it does do without a doubt is make us all remember that male/female realtionships are rarely straightforward. Whilst women may no longer be the legal property of their menfolk, and domestic violence is now disapproved of rather than recommended, we will still argue about issues such as who stays home with the kids and who goes out to bring home the bacon - and we will still need women's refuges. As the director says (again, helpfully, in the programme), if the audience leaves thinking about issues such as these, then '...it has been a lively evening of theatre', and the players have indeed done well.
Director Heather Davies carries off her 1950s visualisation of the setting with panache, and the nine-strong cast look great in their rock-n-roll, Bobby-Soxer and Al Capone outfits, performing comicly fitting 50s popsongs live on guitar, ukelele, sax and voice (Jo Theaker's Lulu-esque crooning deserving special mention). Reminding the audience of 'Grease' and the slightly stuffy sex-and-gender mores of 50s America simultaneously seems a perfect match for the histrionic, adolescent behaviour of the central characters as they fuss and faux-fight around very weighty topics. The sexual and intellectual tension between the well-cast Petruchio and Katherina is all-too plausibly electric (get a load of that snog at the end!), there is some brilliant chopping and changing of accents by other identity-shifting cast members, and the device of absorbing the deluded drunkard into the play-within-a-play until he became a central character is very effective. Occasionally you can hear Hamlet leaking over the wall from the other courtyard, and helicopters monitoring rising flood waters can be a little distracting - and take a blanket - but bar these fairly standard outdoor theatre hazards, prepare yourself for a surprisingly funny, interesting evening.