The Shrew’s Tavern is poised for a big night. Landlady Babs is waiting for a wedding party to arrive: her mate Sal’s daughter Megan is getting married to Ben. There’s going to be booze and music, but also tension as Megan’s Dad, Jimmy is invited too. Megan’s drama school mates are driving up from London to put on a bit of a show. It’s called The Taming of the Shrew…
Lucentio arrives in Padua with his servant Tranio, hungry for culture. Immediately they witness Katharina’s abuse of her sister Bianca. Gremio and Hortensio are rival suitors to Bianca, but her father Baptista insists that her older sister must marry first – an unlikely event as Katharina is such a “devil”. Baptista says he will allow only tutors into his house, but no suitors, until Katharina is wed.
Lucentio is smitten with Bianca and disguises himself as a schoolmaster in order secretly to court her. He instructs his servant Tranio to assume his persona, and they swap costumes and identities.
Petruchio arrives from Verona, with his servant Grumio. He’s got the cash to splash but needs a wife. His friend Hortensio knows of a wealthy woman, but… she is a “shrew”! Petruchio doesn’t care.
Hortensio asks Petruchio to present him to Baptista as a schoolmaster so he too can court Bianca. On their way to Baptista’s house, they bump into Bianca’s other suitors and tension mounts. Petruchio then presents his case as suitor for Katharina. Petruchio and Gremio offer tutors to Baptista as “gifts”. The rivals Lucentio and Hortensio court Bianca under the guise of Latin and lute teachers.
Petruchio tries a direct approach to woo Katharina involving banter and verbal wrong-footing. Although he doesn’t get very far, when Baptista arrives he pretends that Kate is gentle as a lamb in private, but still “curst” in public. The wedding date is set for the following Sunday.
As the first half ends, wedding day tensions back at The Shrew’s Tavern are also rising to the surface…
All is set for Petruchio & Katharina’s wedding, but for one thing: no groom. When Petruchio finally arrives, his clothing and behaviour are bizarre. He forgoes the wedding feast and drags a complaining Katharina off to his house. Tranio and Hortensio observe Lucentio making swift progress in his courting of Bianca. They abandon their causes and leave.
Back at his house, Petruchio’s behaviour is erratic: a bully to his servants but apparent sweetness to his bride; except that his ‘kind’ attention effectively denies her food and sleep. On the road back to Baptista’s, Petruchio twists logic to claim that the sun is the moon & vice versa. Bianca & Lucentio confess their secret marriage and it looks as though there’s a thaw between Petruchio & Katharina.
Finally, with disguises dropped and couples united, a proper wedding feast can take place. The men can’t resist a bet about their wives’ obedience: whose wife will obey their husband and come when summoned? Lucentio calls for Bianca but she refuses. When Petruchio calls for Katharina, she not only obeys, but berates headstrong women, lecturing Bianca about her marital duties.
Some kind of order has been restored, so cue the music… it’s going to be a long night!
Sal / Katharina
Megan / Bianca
Babs / Baptista
Tracy / Tranio
Jimmy / Petruchio
Harry / Hortensio
Jack / Gremio
TOTS: To stage or not to stage?
The text of The Shrew has varied so widely, even in Shakespeare’s time, that it has always been an editor’s jewel or nightmare. It’s thought to be an early play (1592 perhaps), but it never really established itself until the famous actor-manager Garrick adapted it as a comic vehicle in Catherine & Petruchio (1756). Until then the play had popped up in unlikely guises, such as Sauny the Scott or A Cure for a Scold which had little text and 23 songs and dances. When Shakespeare’s original did re-emerge, especially from the 1960’s onwards in RSC flagship productions, two elements were always key: the framing device which sets up the themes of the main action whilst giving it an ironic distance, and the challenging gender/political debate around Petruchio’s treatment of Kate. The Taming of the Shrew has often been a case of to stage or not to stage, that is the question…
There have been countless attempts to get around the practical and moral issues of this ‘problem’ play to make it relevant or palatable. Modern directors have moulded the play further to challenge audience perceptions, and turned problems to their advantage. In 1978 Michael Bogdanov’s production began with a fight breaking out between a drunk audience member (Petruchio) and an abused usherette (Katharina). In 1985 Di Trevis made her Kate a downtrodden touring actress: she starts the play carrying a baby and pulling on a cart à la Mother Courage. At the Globe in 2003 Phyllida Lloyd directed an-all female cast with a swaggering Janet McTeer as Petruchio. In its film history there have been seven silent versions, but the most famous version has to be Zeffirelli’s pitting of Burton vs. Taylor, a relationship perfectly steeped in pre-history – and alcohol. In 1999 Heath Ledger played Pat opposite Julia Stiles’ Kat in a slick film update called Ten Things I Hate About You. An illustrious roll call of other actors shows the popularity of the central battle: Jonathan Cleese, in the 1980 BBC version, channelling Basil Fawlty opposite Sarah Badel; Peter O’Toole taming a thirty-five year older Peggy Ashcroft; Brian Cox coaxing a manic depressive Fiona Shaw. And, of course, there is Cole Porter’s witty and perennially popular Kiss Me Kate, which cleverly sets the battle of the sexes between an actor-manager and his star / ex-wife.
Over the years the original prologue about a Lord duping a drunken tinker, Sly, has been cut, tweaked – or in our case totally rewritten by Laura Turner – to give the setting a new context and bounce. Identities are blurred as costumes and disguises are donned and new characters assumed. Old loves and friendships are challenged and rekindled. The theatre gives licence to express extreme emotions and views. So if you add alcohol, and give strong characters “history”, in a play about a wedding, set in a pub, in the North…well, what could possibly go wrong?!
Associate Movement Director
Deputy Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Deputy Wardrobe Mistress
Front of House Manager
Box Office Manager
Lucy Hollis and Clare Glancy
Jake Smith and Alice Kornitzer