Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Above the Arts

“Why, there be good women in the world”

At the heart of Custom/Practice’s Verve festival – exploring shifting relations between minority groups and the theatre – is this gender-flipped production of The Taming of the Shrew. Indubitably one of the more challenging of Shakespeare’s plays, contemporary companies thus have to work a little harder to make it ‘work’ for them – Propeller played up the Christopher Sly framing device to confront notions of masculinity and power to great effect but here, director Rae Mcken excises it to plunge us straight into a world where women are ruling the roost.

For pretty much every character save Grumio is being played by someone of the opposite sex as someone of the opposite sex but further blurring the boundaries, costumes suggest the original gender. So Martina Laird’s Petruchio arrives looking for a husband by striding onto the stage somewhere between matador and pirate in resplendent gold satin and Tim Bowie’s Bianca bristles under his mother’s edicts whilst wearing make-up, heels and a corset over his tapered joggers. It’s an inventive and challenging take that forces constant questioning about gender roles and society’s role in enforcing them. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Above the Arts”

Review: Outside on the Street, Arcola

“You must have a Christian name you little pessimist”

As the Edinburgh Festival disgorges shows left right and centre into London theatres, it can still be a bit of challenge what to go and see – the cacophony of critical voices only really allows a small handful of must-see shows to emerge and the rest are left to fight for their own bit of London’s crowded turf. The choice to go and see Invertigo’s Outside on the Street at the Arcola was largely guided by my previous experience with the company when they brilliantly brought a Welsh-language play – Saer Doliau – to the Finborough earlier this year. But their mission to adventure into all kinds of unfamiliar European work and so this play sees them tackle this post-WWII tale by Wolfgang Borchert.

Partly based on his own experiences of escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp and returning to a war-devastated Hamburg, Borchert delves into something of the effects of a cataclysmic war, where not only physical destruction but emotional damage has been inflicted in the most overwhelming of ways and whether there is any possible way back from there. The central character is Sergeant Beckmann, who returns from Siberia to find his wife has taken a lover, his parents are dead, his city is ruined and in an act of desperation, decides to take his life by throwing himself into the Elbe. But the river sends him back into the world from whence he embarks on a torrid journey full of characters both real and imagined, surreally searching for any kind of solace he can find. Continue reading “Review: Outside on the Street, Arcola”