Oh boy! It’s taken a few centuries, but Shakespeare’s tradition of using an all male cast has been thrust aside by eight confident, sophisticated, very vocal and talented women actors – ironically reflecting characteristics possessed by the 16th century Katherina Minola.
She was no doubt more shrewd than shrewish, but she was ahead of her time, in the days when women were kept very much “under the thumb” and domestic brutality was not questioned.
Katherina (Kate Lamb) scolds and stamps her foot and her father Baptista (Kathryn Hunt) is desperate to have her married and taken off his hands, while suitors queue for the hand of her younger, sweeter sister Bianca (Olivia Morgan).
For today’s audience, one of the most relevant moments comes when Petruchio (Leah Whitaker) first sets eyes on Kate and is instantly attracted and challenged by her. Their exchange is witty and sexy, just like it should be, but after that, we have to accept the customs of the Elizabethan era and watch the tricks he uses to make her a “conformable” wife. One is to turn up late on their wedding day, in this production, hilariously towing beer cans and balloons like a honeymoon car, with L-plate on his back, and champagne bottle in hand.
Kate is a fast learner and she might be bullied, but Shakespeare gives her room for manoeuvre as she adroitly bandies words with her husband and bemused family, and despite a touching verbal surrender, we suspect that in her own mind she will always be one step ahead.
The Globe Theatre presented its first all-woman production of The Taming of the Shrew in London 10 years ago and the tours began three years later.Director Joe Murphy and the company have brought a red and white striped booth stage, like a little big top, to the Minack. The strolling players burst out of it with tremendous energy from the off, all in black and singing and playing a range of instruments including trombone, saxophone, guitars and accordion.
The costume changes are many and varied with a Twenties trend towards blazers, boaters, brogues and elegant tweeds, but including hunting pink, cricket whites, and flying jackets, helmets and goggles, so anything goes.
There’s nothing little about these women – they have a big stage presence with big clear voices and big gestures to match and the acting is sharp and smart.
Kathryn Hunt, who also plays Grumio, is the catalyst with a voice that both booms and growls, and Becci Gemmell as Lucentio doesn’t miss a single expressive cue, and with the backing of Remy Beasley, Joy Richardson and Nicola Sangster, very convincingly tame this play.