The Taming of the Shrew is a thoroughly questionable production to be putting on in 2016, with elements of transphobia and the trivialisation of domestic abuse creating a difficult production to pull off. Montague Basement have pulled it off.
Director Caitlin West has crafted a production of significant value. Cheap laughs were avoided and difficult subject matter was treated with the weight it deserved.
Hannah Cox is the grim-faced victim of domestic violence in her portrayal of Katherine. The chemistry between Cox and Robert Boddington in the role of Petruchio bounces and dives between deep passion and severe emotional trauma with an alarming swiftness.
Boddington’s portrayal of endearing blokeyness ensures the audience is caught off-guard by the ease with which Petruchio rapidly descends into being a domestic abuser. Cox’s transition to a fearful and obedient survivor is slower, but by no means less powerful.
Creating a working class image of Petruchio through costuming and characterisation was a somewhat lazy choice that could have invited far more interesting questions surrounding class and the reality of domestic violence had it been avoided.
Elsewhere in the production, though, the cast did well recreating the isolation and helplessness of those proximate to situations of domestic violence. The silence of the final moments reiterated the frustration and impotency of the family to save someone who does not recognise their need to be saved.
Peppered throughout the production were moments of technicolour bliss between Bianca (Jane Watt) and Lucentio (Tel Benjamin), accompanied by a boppy, upbeat soundtrack. These moments served to shock and provide a reprieve for the audience. The production was most interesting in these moments of stark contrast; the rapidity of changing from scenes of playful note-passing to sweaty crying bodies ensured the audience never felt safe in their assumptions.
West and her cast have created a thoroughly modern and relevant production of the Shakespearean comedy. By highlighting the moments of love in abusive relationships, the production tells a very real story that is often hard to swallow. I applaud the use of sensitivity and emotion that this play so desperately needed.
Montague Basement’s The Taming of the Shrew is continuing to show at the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists on the 6th, 8th and 10th of December. Find out more about it (and its other half, Macbeth) here.