YISF 2015: The Taming of the Shrew

From Friargate Theatre, Unknown brings you the final review of the York International Shakespeare Festival as the curtain closes. The Taming of the Shrew, reviewed by Alice Caprio.

Waiting patiently in line for the doors of Friargate Theatre to open, one is suddenly made to feel perplexed, shocked, uncomfortable even, as a drunken figure stumbles from the back of the queue to question the audience in loud slurred speech: “why are the doors still closed…why isn’t there anyone to open them?” As you gradually become aware that the performance has in fact begun, you are brought to enter a small, bare room with no apparent set, apart from two wooden chairs placed at the centre of the stage. The sense of displacement augments as an angry woman demands an explanation for the audience’s intrusion into what appears to be a private, intimate space. Our reaction, laughter, increasingly becomes the actors’ weapon. We laugh to ensure ourselves it is just a theatrical performance; we laugh to ignore the growing feelings of guilt, disorientation and misplacement. The interrogation should not to be taken seriously. It’s just a play, isn’t it? Here is a performance that will not let you sit idly by. There is no safety in the stalls; Shakespeare has been unleashed.

We laugh to ensure ourselves it is just a theatrical performance. We laugh to ignore the growing feelings of guilt, disorientation and misplacement

Last night’s performance of “The Taming of the Shrew” was a perceptive adaptation by Two Gents Productions. The play’s exploration of gender and identity was successful in blurring the boundaries between “Self” and the “Other” by bringing the succession of character-inversion to the level of exasperation. The actors revealed great adeptness in their impersonation of multiple characters, and relied on their own physicality rather than costume. This allowed for a mercurial fluidity, which would have otherwise appeared mechanical. The intricacy of the plot might have risked becoming arduous to follow, but the story framing the central action was cleverly redesigned. It thus permitted the use of humorous asides, which made it easier for the audience to acknowledge the change in character or place.

Photo by Greg Veit Photography
Photo by Greg Veit Photography

The interaction with the audience was a uniting thread, which enabled the play’s flexible nature to surface. Rather than a weakness, this transformed the use of two sole actors into an asset. Sometimes improvisation became necessary but this injected the performance with exciting energy allowing for inventive digressions. These made the appropriation of identity a self-conscious act, clear for the audience to discern. Although the second act slowed its pace and wasn’t as engaging as the first half, the two actors were able to animate an entire cast using their bodies as blank canvases wherein new personas emerged. Their use of space was also commendable as it revitalised the action to keep the audience alert and perceptive to shifts in the story.

Humorous and explorative, Two Gents Productions’ approach is original and enticing: a performance you will not be likely to forget.

*The Taming of the Shrew is showing 15th-16th May at the Friargate Theatre