|Baptista||David Kirkbride |
|Vincentio/Curtis ||Steven Gregson|
|Lucentio ||Thomas Reynolds|
|Tranio ||Simon Cole|
|Petruchio ||Robert Icke|
|Gremio ||Daniel Hill|
|Associate Directors||Daniel Hill|
|Lighting Designer||Matthew Case|
|Composer||Stephen Waller |
|Company Manager ||Steven Gregson |
The British Theatre Guide
18th September 2005
When I reviewed Arden's Dream last year, I ended by saying "This is an exceptional group": this year's production of the Shrew strongly reinforces that opinion. I have seen many far worse professional, let alone youth theatre productions of Shakespeare over the years. And it is worth repeating that this youth theatre company operates entirely without any adult involvement of any kind: everything (acting, directing, admin, finding sponsorship) is done by the members (who range in age from 15 to 18) themselves. (See our article about the company).
If there is one word which sums up this production for me, it is "intelligent". Both director Robert Icke and his cast have clearly thought deeply about and understood the play, not just in outline but down to the level of the text. If, as (very) occasionally happened, the diction was not 100% clear, it was of less concern than it might otherwise have been, for the meaning was implicit in the delivery, the voice and body language.
Through this understanding they have found the humour in the play, not just of the laugh-out-loud kind but the more subtle wry, under-the-breath chuckle too. What particularly appealed to me was the sense of humour which underlay Nicola Jobson's Katharina's big speech in the last scene ("Fie, Fie..."), a speech which modern audiences find so difficult. There was a sparkle in Katharina's eyes and an exchange of secret grins with Petruchio that suggested that this was a set-up, that she was saying what she knew he wanted her to say but which neither really and truly believed. This was supported by the fact that this Petruchio was rather more thoughtful and considered in his "bullying" and was clearly educating her away from shrewishness rather than pushing her into subservience. At critical moments he exhibited a kind of teacherly delight at his pupil's growing understanding rather than the relish of the bully getting his own way, and we could see, too, how her understanding grew.
Interesting, too, was the idea of playing Bianca (Rachel Scott) as something of a spoiled brat rather than the somewhat prissy goody-goody she is often portrayed as being. It made her rather shrewish response to Lucentio's request in the final scene the more believable.
Director Icke, who also plays Petruchio, handles his cast well. With his associate directors Daniel Hill and David Kirkbride he has enabled them to understand the text and therefore their characters, and he moves them around the stage with an assuredness that belies his eighteen years. What is particularly appealing - and, to be honest, somewhat unsual in youth theatre - is the high standard of acting of all the company members, even in the smallest of parts. 17 year old Josh Mason, for example, has to be one of the best Hortensios I have ever seen and Daniel Hill, who made an excellent Bottom last year, was a real hit as Gremio, whilst Tom Reynolds (Lucentio) and Simon Cole (Tranio) made an excellent double act.
The whole ensemble, indeed, was excellent. One can only hope that, when those who, like Robert Icke, are going off to university next month, return at the end of their first year (during which, I hope, they will maintain their commitment to theatre), they will get together for another Arden production. I'm sure the Arc and their audience will want them to!
For Shakespeare's opening scenes Arden substituted a dumb show which plunged us straight into the mean world of the play. Instead of seeing actors playing actors playing a comedy as part of a trick on a drunken fool we came face to face with the 'reality' of the play and its unpleasantly real inhabitants. Gremio's urinating set the standard of behaviour, typifying the disrespect the characters have for one another. There is antagonism, childishness, lack of manners, and it is not only men versus women but almost each person against each person, there is little love between any of them.
'Taming of the Shrew' is not at all politically correct but this did not deter Arden from tackling it head on. The central issues of the play are still universally crucial parenthood, love, attraction, how to choose a partner, how to be happily married. As usual Arden made every word of the text count, developing the merest hints to give rounder characters. Their use of gesture, mime, stress on certain words, non verbal responses of characters to each other etc., meant that characters like Tranio became three dimensional, their actions more plausible, outcomes less certain. When the end came and Lucentio was looking forward to a less hopeful life of wedded bliss it was convincing largely because Arden's playing had given us a Bianca who never was perfect and who seemed to have been pushed into a situation by men who had assumed to decide for her. Her sour expression in the last scene was a reflection of the one Katherina wore when we first saw her.
The play itself was given more light and shade, the comedy sharpened and the gravity deepened. Without the introductory scenes concerning Sly we were freed from the concept that the play is an amusing interlude . There was an emotional ambivalence in Arden's interpretation – sometimes you were laughing and then there was something really serious which was not funny at all, and you were left feeling wrong-footed and guilty for smiling. The homecoming scene was a particular example with the hilarious household servants including the comic 'aside' of the missing dog. Juxtaposed with this the violence of Petruchio's destruction of the dinner was profoundly shocking. But the shock wasn't purely for effect. It underlined the crisis point which had been reached. Petruchio had nearly lost it and he seemed to feel it himself, a split-second of (self?-)doubt in which the whole edifice tottered. Then the tension was relieved with 'well what would you do?' To break here for the interval was excellent timing, because it allowed everything that had just happened to sink in.
It was a brilliant production. Robert Icke performed excellently as Petruchio with a new relaxed confidence and ease. There were several memorable comic gems such as Tranio's unmetrical grandiloquence, and Hortensio's various fortunes as Cambio and his eating all the dinner. All the actors are maturing and developing as performers with each new production, so 'Twelfth Night' is eagerly awaited.
I'd like to thank you for a wonderful evening. You presented Shakespeare as it should be; full of energy, emotion and humour. Each character was clearly drawn and distinctive, the actors spoke well and their comic timing was excellent. On the way home, just the words 'lute' and 'head' had us laughing outrageously.
The programme was also very thought provoking and reading The Shaming of the True in the interval made me listen far more carefully to Kate's last speech.
Thanks once again. Your production was as good in all ways as other outstanding evenings I've had at the Arc, namely The Cracked Pot (Northern Broadsides) and Titus Andronicus (KAOS).
A thorough congratulations to director and cast of The Taming of the Shrew, which my family and I thoroughly enjoyed last night.
We've seen some dreadful things at Arc (we left the painfully embarrassing Dr. Faustus at the interval) but your production proved that there really are ways and means to bring these books to life on a limited budget. Not only was this the most subtly detailed Shrew I have ever seen, it was also by far the funniest, and served up the play in a full and heartwarming fashion. Every actor deserves special mention, but one has to note specifically the re-examinations of Petruchio and Kate at the heart of this production. Simply put, I believed at the end they were head-over-heels in love (is there something going on behind the scenes?).
Many, many congratulations, and we shall be sure to keep up with whatever you do in the future.
We went to see the play on Thursday evening. It was just fantastic.Â We loved the characters, the emphasis and stagecraft (which certainly assisted my understanding), the lighting, the set, the music, the asides, the interaction with the audience, and the comedy. I suppose even Will himself didn't do at all badly with the actual words....
I have to say that the professionalism from the moment of arrival at the Arc was excellent: What a great way to spend an evening. I'm sure I could only underestimate the effort, work, thought, perseverence and sheer time that you all have put into this event - you should all be extremely proud of youselves.
I'd seen both of your previous productions at the Arc, and so knew vaguely what to expect, but your production of Taming of the Shrew just blew me away. I saw the show on Thursday and again on Saturday and thought finally I would respond to your invitation in the programme to criticise.
Caesar was good if raw, and Dream was a tremendous achievement (and the best Dream I've seen) but your Shrew was golddust. The interpretation was radical: doing the sexist one as non-sexist, but it was one of those glorious occasions when it makes far more sense than it ever did before.
Direction, set, lights, music all top-drawer, as you would expect from Arden. Performances were very more consistent than ever before, with no significant weaknesses. I didn't really believe either Peter Gordon or Nicola Jobson: but I think the standard of the work opposite them was so high that the comparison was crueller than the reality.
Simon Cole as Tranio was explosively good, as was John Kirkbride as his sidekick: two excellent comic performances. Loved Daniels Rees and Hill every bit as much as in the Dream, excellent actors both and very funny to boot. David Kirkbride as the father: excellent. Rachel Scott as Bianca also really stood out as talented: a very subtle reading of Bianca that really made you sit up and listen, particularly with her final scene attention being pointed toward Tranio: will look forward to her return.
Josh Mason's Hortensio has been rightly praised, I thought he was excellent. Particularly like his attention to the detail of the individual lines and thought patterns, perhaps why he managed to squeeze the comic juice completely out of the scenes he was in.
I was never wholly convinced by Robert Icke as an actor in your earlier productions, but I confess to being fully converted after seeing his Petruchio: a world apart from any Petruchio I'd seen. Thought the interpretation was spot-on, and the longing for the dead father beautifully played. He put across a lot of balls and a helluva lot of heart, as well as being extremely funny: 110% more than I would expect of even an Arden performance.
If there is a DVD please do put it on the website, as I'd pay dearly for a copy of it. I never thought I would be tearful at the end of Taming of the Shrew: and not just through laughing so much. Testament to the genius of your production and your Petruchio as well as Shakespeare.