The Taming of the Shrew @ Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company's revival of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew raises questions about about patriarchy and injustice

Review by Elaine Reid | 15 Mar 2019

Written around 1590, William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is perhaps one of his most troubling plays. Unmistakeably a comedy, with instances of mistaken identities and trickery, it’s also uncomfortable to watch as its gutsy female lead, Katherina, is “tamed” through sleep and food deprivation by her tyrannical new husband, Petruchio. Despite this awkward balance, the play has remained popular, perhaps because it is difficult to pin down and has been subject to numerous critical interpretations, from a deplorable representation of male misogyny to a cautionary moral tale.

Directed by Tilly Botsford, the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company (EUSC) tread the balance between humour and discomfort well. Michael Hajiantonis as Petruchio is every inch the confident tyrant who struts across the stage and manhandles and breaks Kate’s spirit; Anna Swinton as Katherina portrays both the feisty shrew, and the psychologically-broken wife with equal conviction.

Against the backdrop of the difficult relationship between Petruchio and Katherina, there is light relief in the form of the courtship of her younger sister, Bianca (Jessica Butcher). A queue of suitors line-up to court the more amiable daughter, posing as tutors and assuming disguises along the way. Here, the cast shine in raising laughs from the audience with Will Peppercorn as Lucentio particularly using his stage presence, gestures and outbursts to comedic effect. Sally Macalister as Grumio is equally beguiling with her comic glances and well-timed deliveries.

The play is set against a limited static backdrop – a set of scaffolding forms the rough structure of a building, and blocks of steps on either side of the stage create the only other decoration, making the focus entirely on the words and delivery. Arguably this works well for such a troubling piece, where the words themselves are so important. However, the sudden introduction of music in the background at various points in the play seems a bit out of place, and the journey of the cast up and down from the auditorium to the stage is a touch over-used.

As the lights fall, three women are left on stage following Kate’s speech about the role of an obedient wife, and despite the laughter throughout the production, we are left with the lasting questions the play raises about patriarchy and injustice.

The Taming of the Shrew @ Pleasance Theatre, until 16 Mar, more info: