That old adage of “the show must go on” was never more true for Immersion Theatre’s The Taming Of The Shrew which opened last night at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley.
James Clifford wasn’t going to let a little thing like a busted leg keep him from performing the lead as Petruchio, not after all that rehearsal.
So on opening night he gamely threw himself into the part (not too literally) with a very modern prop for Shakespeare – in the form of a 21th century crutch.
Actually, it didn’t look that much out of place as this hip and with-it production is set in 1960s south London, around the streets not far from the venue.
But it did limit his ability to physically grapple with the feisty “Catherine the cursed”. While he may not have been able to dance the Twist during the party scene, or get to grips with his leading lady, he could keep her at bay with the end of his stick.
Shrew is a difficult play to perform to modern audiences who struggle to accept the central concept of a man who tames a wild woman.
Starving her, depriving her of sleep, exhausting her with activity and finally wearing her into submission, may have seemed acceptable in 17th century London (or even Italy where The Bard’s story is set) but it sticks in the craw of today’s audiences.
But, behind the misogyny there is a very funny supporting story which tempers the main tale. The comedy, by far, outweighs the distasteful marital abuse.
Verona now looks remarkably like south east London, the set dressed with a pub sign from the notorious Blind Beggar and a bit of pop art.
Shakespeare insisted his productions were performed in contemporary dress.
So instead of doublet and hose we have pork pie hats, parkas, sharp suits (as worn by the best dressed gangsters. Liam Mulvey looked all set for The Krays as Petruchio’s servant Grumio) and, for the ladies mini-skirts, Sassoon bobs and garish-coloured tights (god, that took me back).
But Catherine looked more androgynous, in scruffy boyfriend jeans, plaid shirt and dirty t-shirt, her faced twisted and pinched as though she was sucking on a lemon.
Her mother, Baptista won’t allow her youngest daughter, Bianca, to marry until she has offloaded her eldest.
It is a nicely paced performance from Sophie Doherty. You could empathise with her exasperation and guilt at being responsible for bringing this particular wildcat into the world.
But the chances of finding anyone stupid or brave enough to take on Catherine seemed unlikely – until Petruchio, in the market for a wife, decided he was up to the challenge.
It’s no wonder Clifford didn’t want to remove himself. He delivers a confident performance that’s full of fire and devilment.
The brazen beau wades in with a full frontal assault that completely wrong-foots Kate. He serves up like for like, breaking Kate down until she does his bidding.
Rochelle Parry has a great time as Catherine. She can afford to be as foul as possible in the first act and she does – deliciously. To be honest the girl behaves less cursed and more psychotic.
Even after being put through the Petruchio School Of Charm And Decorum she, thankfully, still retains an element of mischievousness but the aggression has been sucked out of her by a devious suitor.
Meanwhile the story plays out to find Bianca a groom and she’s spoilt for choice. The young and ardent Lucentio (Clive Keene who would make a jolly good Romeo) swaps identities with his servant (the cocky Tranio – a super Jack-The-Lad performance by Jack Harding) to woo her.
A middle-aged neighbour, Gremio (John Fricker), comes a courting offering early loser-in-love, Hortensio dressed as a hippy (Dan Dawes looking far out, man) as a tutor for the girl.
They buzz around the flirtatious Bianca (a cheeky turn by Lisa Lynn) making fools of themselves and giving us a laugh along the way.
It’s a fun production featuring some groovy snatches of ‘60s’ pop hits.
Co-directors Amy Gunn and James Tobias have taken the best elements of a lengthy story, edited it into a pacy two-hour performance, and brought in a captivating, if stormy, rom-com.
The Taming Of The Shrew runs at the Brockley Jack until October 18 after which it embarks on a national tour.
October 21, Empire Theatre, Consett
October 22, Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
October 25, Stanwix Arts Theatre, Carlisle
October 27, Loughborough Town Hall, Loughborough
October 29, Grove Theatre, Dunstable
November 4, Camberley Theatre, Surrey
November 8, Underground Theatre, Eastbourne
November 11, Kenton Theatre, Henley
November 12, Harrow Arts Centre, Greater London.