15 Jul The Taming of the Shrew
Directed by Andrew Hilton
7 February – 15 March 2008
Production Photos © 2008 Graham Burke
For this production Dominic Power wrote an epilogue to complete the Christopher Sly ‘framing’ of the Petruchio/Katherina main plot. No critic questioned its authenticity; two actually welcomed its ‘restoration’.
Christopher Sly Bill Wallis
Hostess / Widow Francesca Ryan
Lord / Philip Nicholas Gadd
1st Huntsman / Clerk / Pedant Jonathan Nibbs
2nd Huntsman/ Clerk / Vincentio Alan Coveney
Page / Biondello Oliver Millingham
Gremio / Curtis Paul Nicholson
Petruchio Leo Wringer
Lucentio Oliver le Sueur
Grumio Dan Starkey
Baptista Roland Oliver
Hortensio Philip Buck
Bianca Annabel Scholey
Tranio Chris Donnelly
Katherina Saskia Portway
Director Andrew Hilton
Associate Director & Editor Dominic Power
Assistant Director Emma Earle
Set & Costume Designer Chris Gylee
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Lighting Designer Tim Streader
Composer & Sound Designer Dan Jones
Production Manager Tim Hughes
Stage Manager Jayne Byrom
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Adam Moore
Costume Maintenance Angie Parker
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
★★★ The Guardian Dream, disguise and duplicity are brought to the fore in Andrew Hilton’s admirably level-headed production of this tricky play. Bill Wallis opens the show as sozzled, dishevelled tinker Christopher Sly, duped into believing he is noble. What he soon realises is that he had more fun as he was.
It is the first of many cruel or competitive transformations in this uneasy comedy that leads to the taming of a feisty, fiery wife. Hilton’s avoidance of even a gently feminist reinterpretation leaves us with the original drama in all its vexing complexity. Shakespeare pits two immensely powerful characters, Kate and Petruchio, against each other, with an outcome that seems to sit as uneasily with his other dramas as it does with modern sensibilities. And yet, thanks largely to well-matched performances from Saskia Portway as Kate and Leo Wringer as Petruchio, this is a Shrew that makes you think rather than simply push its uncomfortable ideas aside. Portway screeches truculently; Wringer mixes mischief and an edge of danger in his game-playing. It is, ultimately, impossible to fathom what drives them to the accommodation they settle upon, but both find a new ease in themselves and a considerable erotic connection through it.
The Shakespeare seasons here are all about letting the plays speak directly to us. This Shrew, precisely because it doesn’t try to gloss over what is unpalatable or bewildering about its characters, is no exception. Elisabeth Mahoney
★★★ The Sunday Times The problem with Andrew Hilton’s elegant, frisky production lies in the taming process. Petruchio (Leo Wringer) and Katherina (Saskia Portway) are suitably confrontational: he’s smug and arrogant, she’s gung-ho from the word go, but there’s no hint that either of them might, even unconsciously, begin to fancy the other. Katherina is only a touch put out that he can make her laugh, and she softens up only after she has been terrorised by a power freak. That reduces the characters and the play to the politically incorrect monstrosity that feminists object to. Hilton drives the play at a sprightly pace and gives plenty of space to the supporting cast, of whom Oliver Le Sueur (Lucentio) stands out as a nimble wag who really is in love. Bill Wallis plays a grim, dim Christopher Sly: you end up almost pitying him. I wish more directors retained the prologue and epilogue; they make the play echo as a cunning, sophisticated fantasy rather than theatrical marriage guidance. John Peter
★★★ The Daily Mail This venue is Bristol’s only serious theatre now that the city’s famous Old Vic is closed. The Tobacco Factory soldiers on without any Arts Council money. A good thing, too, as it means it can’t be closed down by some vengeful bureaucrat for not doing enough `edgy’ drama about lesbian crack addicts. The Factory’s staple is wellspoken Shakespeare for which, judging from jam-packed houses, there’s a gleeful demand. The Shrew is a play which has traditionally caused feminists to retch violently. And you can see why. It’s a misogynistic comedy in which Shakespeare shows how wife abuse can really improve your marriage.
Petruchio, who has come `to wive it wealthily’ in Padua, takes on the vile-tempered Kate that no suitor will touch and uses starvation and sleep deprivation to tame her … Leo Wringer gives a wry, dignified performance in what is surely a roistering Peter O’Toole of a part. Saskia Portway is a downright venomous Kate, who shuns any hint of cutesiness as she goes through the torments of hell at the hands of her unwanted bridegroom. Her exquisite last speech about the need for wifely subservience is delivered not with an ironic wink but a dazzling sincerity that has jaws dropping along every row. This Kate is touchingly released by the bonds of love. The show tells the story in detail (the Sly the Tinker induction scene, with Bill Wallis, is kept in) for those who haven’t seen this rarely performed comedy. Chris Gylee’s lavish Tudor costumes are a reminder that the play’s sexual politics belong in a museum. It’s all highly intelligent – it just needs to be funnier and faster. Nothing, however, detracts from my view that Andrew Hilton, the director of both the show and this valuable theatre, is a hero. Robert Gore-Langton
The Morning Star More like a meeting of equals
The intimate Tobacco Factory space opens its Shakespeare season with a wonderfully clear and amusing production set in the round on a bare stage. No punches are pulled or theatrical slights of hand conjured to make Katherina’s submission more politically correct, but the two outstanding central performances stop it being a simple conquering of a volatile feminine spirit.
The po-faced Katherina (Saskia Portway) being starved, sleep-deprived but largely browbeaten into submission is a study in suppressed anger and frustration. The volcanic eruptions are gradually dwarfed, capped and redirected by Leo Wringer’s outstanding Petruchio. His performance which is at times manic, quashes not only his wife’s feisty, fiery temperament but also any opposition from the onlookers. His intensity, passion and sense of playing a game, however serious, is never lost and evident in his troubled looks before the final test of his wife’s loyalty. Their final kiss is full of passion and suggests an equality and happiness that both have found in contrast to the other more traditionally married couples.
The 16-strong cast are uniformly strong, from Bill Wallis as the portly, drunken Brummie Sly, who is struggling to get to grips, then revelling in his new-found reality, to Annabel Scholey’s rather spoilt, aloof and superficially charming Bianca and Roland Oliver’s understandably world-weary Baptista, who is always busy trying to resolve the plight of his unmarried daughters.
The production generates laughs throughout, not only in the central battle of the sexes but in the disguised suitor wars, the mistaken identities and the range of attitude-endowed servants. Andrew Hilton should be congratulated on yet another detailed, clear and highly engaging Shakespeare production. Simon Parsons
★★★★★ Venue It’s a sticky one, ‘ Shrew’. Apparently condoning Petruchio’s unsavoury ‘taming’ and Kate’s ‘submission’, it’s been vilified as sexist tripe, excused as Shakespeare being ironic and occasionally refashioned to include huge dollops of political correctness. Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory take a robust, intelligent, exploratory approach, neither skating over the difficult stuff nor twisting it to fit a preconceived agenda. As Kate and Petruchio, Saskia Portway and Leo Wringer map every shift in the troubled couple’s relationship, their finely nuanced characters light years away from the conventional socio/psychopath double-act. Portway visibly bristles with conflicting emotions while Wringer is simultaneously bully, mischief-maker and bemused outsider. What’s more, thanks to stf’s democratic instinct for giving seemingly minor characters their due (Chris Donnelly’s Tranio, say, or Dan Starkey’s Grumio), their story is firmly set in the context of a mercenary society where everyone’s on the make, love is a commodity and Baptista (a spectacularly ruffed Roland Oliver) glibly trades his daughters for cash. Likewise, by including the framing device of Sly the tinker’s ‘dream’ (Bill Wallis), this is very much a play-within-a-play, that slight distance a reminder that the politics are in your reaction: you might be righteously appalled, think Kate’s big speech is a satirical proto-feminist scam or sink into retarded Daily Mail chauvinism. That’s up to you. Brilliantly, this is all done without losing the humour, wit and humanity that makes ‘Shrew’ a play rather than just an intellectual exercise. Tom Phillips
Bath Chronicle Modern sensibilties about womanhood usually render this a problem play. How dare Petruchio brutalise Kate so? How dare she capitulate so wholeheartedly? Surely he must be portrayed as a monster? Surely her final speech must be made palatable with side helpings of irony? Andrew Hilton has no truck with such political correctness. He brushes up his Shakespeare with absolutely nothing that isn’t there in the first place and the result, as ever, is astonishingly good. His Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory players have graced us with their presence for nine springtimes now and they just keep on getting better.
Chris Donnelly, Jonathan Nibbs, Paul Nicholson, Roland Oliver, Saskia Portway . . . they’re like old friends you can’t wait to see again and who never fail to surprise and delight when they turn up. This production teams up Portway as Kate with Leo Wringer as Petruchio, inspired casting following their success as Desdemona and Othello last year. Their versatility shines out.
The best performers in any field make difficult things look simple and in this case the couple handle the complexities of the text and the intricacies of their characters with assured ease and naturalness. In the end there is nothing offensive about Kate’s honest-to-goodness endorsement of domestic bliss Elizabethan-style: it comes over as perfectly reasonable in the spirit of the times. Full marks too to Bill Wallis as the hoodwinked drunk Christopher Sly, who touchingly grunts and tumbles his way through not only the familiar Induction but also the rarely seen Epilogue, neatly inserted from an early Quarto version. Peter Patston
Metro It may have been three hours long but the near-sell-out audience at Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s new production of The Taming of the Shrew were captivated by it.
Director Andrew Hilton has chosen a minimalist set, with the action performed in the round. The characters speak for themselves and there is no politically correct whitewashing of the play’s dubious sexual politics. It helps, perhaps, that the Elizabethan costumes place events firmly in the past. In his cruel ‘breaking’ of Kate, Leo Wringer’s devilish and likeable Petruchio wears a smile, as if to imply that he doesn’t really mean to hurt her. There is a palpable chemistry between him and Saskia Portway’s excellent Kate. A spitting whirl of objection, all her anger is expressed in a mouth sour and puckered as it works on an apple. Though her sudden submission to her husband still rankles, in their last scene Petruchio is visibly incredulous when Kate offers her hand for him to stand on, and he kisses it instead. It is a genuinely moving act of love; they have both surrendered. This Shrew is stronger for its backstory being played as strongly as its lead. Praise must go to Oliver le Sueur’s enigmatic Lucentio and Bill Wallis’s amusing Christopher Sly. Lucie Wood
Any director – and particularly a male one – approaches this play with some circumspection. With the possible exception of The Merchant of Venice, it is perhaps the only play of Shakespeare’s that has provoked attacks on his own politics – and it has done since soon after it was written. One of the many marvels about Shakespeare is that he is usually unlocatable within the argument of his plays. He creates many spokesmen and women for many points of view, but those views appear to belong only to the characters themselves. Which – if any – are mouthpieces for Shakespeare we can only guess. More than that, it seems to be fundamental to the breadth of his art that he portrays as he sees, not as he would wish to see; that he is never a polemicist, never seeking to teach, to lead, or to admonish.
But in Petruchio’s determination to ‘tame’ Kate and to oblige her to accept an uncompromisingly patriarchal view of marriage, it is widely assumed Shakespeare makes an exception. While Petruchio and Shakespeare may not be one and the same, Shakespeare is surely endorsing Petruchio’s purpose, approving his use of domestic violence to achieve it, and finally complicit with him in making Kate parrot her husband’s sexist creed.
While it seems to me ridiculous and futile to argue (as it has been, in many attempts to make the play acceptable to modern sensibilities) that the play should be read, or played in completely opposite a fashion – as a discreet feminist victory over a male chauvinist pig – I believe that we should experience Petruchio as we do any other Shakespeare character. He is as much under his creator’s scrutiny as are the men and women who populate the debased and mercenary society of Padua. What happens to him on his journey into marriage may be very different from what he has envisaged, or intended, at the outset. It will certainly be more complex, and human, than a bald attempt to educate a woman in the orthodox Elizabethan belief in wifely subservience. Such complexity and humanity is the life of the drama. Leading characters who understand themselves completely and are in complete control of their destiny make for dull theatre. Petruchio is not among their number.
The existence of a play titled The Taming of a Shrew, alongside Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, has complicated the unravelling of Shakespeare’s sources and his play’s early history in the theatre.
It has been argued that the hugely inferior ‘A Shrew’, which mirrors ‘The Shrew’s’ plot fairly closely, and shares its dialogue in some scenes, was either an earlier play by an unknown author from which Shakespeare borrowed shamelessly, or Shakespeare’s own first shot at the play. Peter Ackroyd, in his recent ‘Shakespeare, the Biography’, bases a short chapter on the unqualified assumption that ‘A Shrew’ was, indeed, Shakespeare’s rough draft. But a contrary theory now has greater support – that ‘A Shrew’ is the later work, a pirate quarto based on one of Shakespeare’s actor’s imperfect memory of ‘The Shrew’. That actor is presumed to have played Grumio in Shakespeare’s play, since his part and scenes in ‘A Shrew’ seem to be the closest to Shakespeare, whilst parts of the story in which he is not involved have been completely reconceived by an unknown hand.
If we follow this theory that Shakespeare’s play came first, The Taming of the Shrew is likely to have been written between 1590 and 1592, making it roughly contemporary with The Comedy of Errors and the Henry Vl trilogy.
The play weaves together three distinct elements with extraordinary assurance. The Christopher Sly framing device follows a contemporary theatrical fashion evident in plays by Kyd, Peele and Greene. A specific source for the trick played on Sly, a version of which we quote later in this programme, might have been derived from Heuterus’De Rebus Burgundicis (1584), or an earlier story on which Heuterus’ Latin text is based. The story of Bianca and the disguisings of her competing lovers has an indisputable literary and dramatic source in George Gascoigne’s 1566 play, Supposes (a translation of Ariosto’s I Suppositi), and can also – like The Comedy of Errors – be linked back to Shakespeare’s study of the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence at Stratford Grammar School. In contrast, the Petruchio/Katherina ‘taming’ plot is based entirely on oral tradition, a story popular in many variations in European folklore – ‘Tale Type 901’ in the Aarne-Thompson classification – with which Shakepeare’s audience would undoubtedly have been familiar. It is but one expression of age-old concerns with the ‘shrewish’ woman, and the battle for dominance between husband and wife. From Noah’s wife in the Mystery Plays, to popular ballads, to Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, Punch & Judy puppet shows and even Christmas pantomimes, the portrayal of wives (and Ugly Sisters) as assertive, sharp-tongued, disobedient, lazy, spendthrift, lubricious, feckless or merely unfaithful is a constant stream, feeding on the misogyny in Christian culture which goes right back to the story of Adam and Eve. Much of it breaks surface in comedy, but it has a more vicious and cruel history, most obviously in the ducking stool, the scold’s bridle (used in British workhouses into the nineteenth century) and the idea of the malevolent witch, who might still be burnt at the stake in Shakespeare’s time.
Goddess, Wife and Shrew
“ … I saw her coral lips to move
And with her breath she did perfume the air.
Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her.”
– Lucentio speaking of Bianca in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
“From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!”
– Hortensio speaking of Katherina
from Kate’s final scene speech in the anonymously authored ‘The Taming of a Shrew’:
“The first world was a form without a form,
A heap confused, a mixture all deformed,
A gulf of gulfs, a body bodiless,
Where all the elements were orderless,
Before the great commander of the world,
The King of Kings, the glorious God of heaven,
Who in six days did frame his heavenly work
And made all things to stand in perfect course:
Then to his image did he make a man,
Old Adam, and from his side asleep
A rib was taken, of which the lord did make
The woe of man, so termed by Adam then
‘Wo-man,’ for that by her came sin to us;
And for her sin was Adam doomed to die.”
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” – from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, read by the Elizabethan priest to the bride after she had promised to ‘love, honour and obey’
“Woman is different from man as body is from soul” – St Jerome
“We are the woman because of the flesh, that is, we are carnal, and we are the man because of the spirit” – Martin Luther
“Ill fares the hapless family that shows
A cock that’s silent, and a Hen that crows.
I know not which live more unnatural lives,
Obedient husbands, or commanding wives.” – John Taylor 1639
“The chronology of public anxiety about scolds and witches is roughly similar, and is paralleled by the chronology of a third category of rebellious woman, the domineering wife, or the `woman on top’. All over Europe festive processions – charivari – had for centuries been employed, with or without official sanction, as shaming rituals against people who violated their community’s sexual norms. In France they were most commonly directed against marriages between mismatched couples – usually elderly husbands marrying young wives … However, in England the more elaborate forms of charivari – as distinct from simple rough-music processions accompanying the carting or `riding’ of a whore – were nearly always directed against couples of whom the wife had beaten or otherwise abused the husband. Recorded instances of this form of charivari nearly all date from the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are a few examples after the Restoration, but, by the eighteenth century, the targets began to change towards mismatched couples, sexual offenders, and eventually, in a reversal of earlier custom, husbands who beat their wives. The `woman on top’, like the scold and the witch, seems to be primarily a phenomenon of the century between 1560 and 1660.” – D.E.Underdown: ‘ The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England’ 1985
“By the faith I have
In my own noble will, that childish woman
That lives a prisoner to her husband’s pleasure
Has lost her making, and becomes a beast
Created for his use, not fellowship.” – John Fletcher’s heroine, Maria, in his answer to Shakespeare, ‘The Tamer Tamed’ 1610
“no man shall make use of me;
My beauty was born free, and free I’ll give it
To him that loves, not buys me.” – Maria’s sister, Livia, in the same play
“It is not discreet perhaps for an editor to discuss, save historically, the effective ways of dealing with [shrews]. Petruchio’s was undoubtedly drastic and has gone out of fashion. But avoiding the present times and recalling … Dickens’s long gallery of middle-aged wives who make household life intolerable by various and odious methods, one cannot help thinking a little wistfully that the Petruchian discipline had something to say for itself.” – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, intro to the CUP edition of the play 1928
“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has pardoned a Saudi woman sentenced to 200 lashes after she was gang raped. The woman, known only as “Qatif girl” after the area where the crime occurred, was raped at knife point by seven men as a former boyfriend drove her home. She had been sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes for being alone in a car with a man who was not a relative but had her punihsment increased to 200 lashes and six months in jail after she spoke out about her case … The decision represents a softening approach towards the rape victim. The justice ministry had defended the woman’s punishment, branding her an adulteress who ‘provoked the attack’ because she was ‘indecently dressed’.” – THE GUARDIAN December 17th 2007
The Trick played on Christopher Sly
We do not know that Shakespeare had read Heuterus’ ‘De Rebus Burgundicis’ but the similarities are remarkable. A French version had appeared in about 1600. This is an edited version of Edward Grimeston’s 1607 translation from the French:
Philip of Burgundy, being at Bruxells with his Court and walking one night after supper through the streets accompanied with some of his favourites, he found lying upon the stones a certain Artisan that was very drunk, and that slept soundly. It pleased the Prince in this Artisan to make trial of the vanity of our life, whereof he had before discoursed with his familiar friends. He therefore caused this sleeper to be taken up and carried into his Palace. He commands him to be laid in one of the richest beds, a rich night-cap to be given him, his foul shirt to be taken off, and to have another put on him of fine Holland. When as this drunkard had digested his wine, and began to awake, behold there comes about his bed, Pages and Groomes of the Prince’s Chamber, who draw the curtains, make many courtesies, and being bare-headed, ask him if it please him to rise, and what apparell it would please him to put on that day. They bring him rich apparrel. The new Monsieur amazed at such courtesie, and doubting whether he dreamt or waked, suffered himself to be dressed, and led out of the Chamber. There came Noblemen which saluted him with all honour, and conduct him to the Masse, where with great ceremony they give him the Book of the Gospel, and the Pyx to Kiss, as they did usually unto the Prince. From the Masse they bring him back unto the Palace, he washes his hands, and sits down at the Table well furnished. After dinner, the great Chamberlain commands Cards, to be brought with a great sum of money. This Prince in Imagination plays with the chief of the Court. Then they carry him to walk in the Garden, and to hunt the Hare and to Hawk. They bring him back unto the Palace, where he sups in state. Candles being lit, the Musicians begin to play, and the Tables taken away, the Gentlemen and Gentlewomen fell to dancing, then they played a pleasant Comedie, after which followed a Banquet where,as they brought store of Ipocras and precious Wine, with all sorts of confitures, to this Prince of the new Impression, soon he was drunk, & fell soundly asleep. Hereupon the Prince commanded that he should be disrobed of all his rich attire. He was put into his old rags and carried into the same place, where he had been found the night before, where he spent that night. Being awake in the morning, he began to remember what had happened before, he knew not whether it were true indeed, or a dream that had troubled his brain. But in the end, after many discourses, he concludes that all was but a dream that had happened unto him, and so entertained his wife, his Children and his neighbours, without any other apprehension.
“this barbaric and disgusting play” (Michael Billington 1978)
“The last scene [of The Taming of the Shrew] is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility. No woman with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed of the lord-of-creation moral implied in the wager and the speech put into the woman’s own mouth.” – George Bernard Shaw 1897
“That The Taming was presented [at Stratford] for eight years in succession from 1909 onwards may perhaps be accounted for in some measure as being due to the activities of the vote-hungry viragoes who from 1910 to the eve of the War were breaking windows, setting fire to churches, chaining themselves to railings, and generally demonstrating their fitness to be endowed with Parliamentary responsibility. Katherina’s `purple patch’ concerning the duty of women … was a smashing rejoinder to the miluitant Furies who were making fools of themselves in the ways indicated.” – East Anglian Times 1933
“The opposition between women who are people and women who are something less does not only rest in the vague contrast between the women of the comedies and the women of the tragedies … In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare contrasted two types in order to present a theory of marriage which is demonstrated by the explicit valuation of both kinds of wooing in the last scene. Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister’s higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold. Bianca has found the women’s way of guile and feigned gentleness to pay better dividends: she woos for herself under false colours, manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin. Kate courts ruin in a different way, but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio, who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping. He tames her as he might a hawk or a hi-mettled horse, and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty. Lucentio finds himself saddled with a cold, disloyal woman, who has no objection to humiliating him in public. The submission of a woman like Kate is genuine and exciting because she has something to lay down, her virgin pride and individuality. Bianca is the soul of duplicity, married without earnestness or good will. Kate’s speech at the close of the play is the greatest defence of Christian monogamy ever written. It rests upon the role of a husband as protector and friend, and it is valid because Kate has a man who is capable of being both, for Petruchio is both gentle and strong (it is a vile distortion of the play to have him strike her ever). The message is probably twofold: only Kates make good wives, and then only to Petruchios; for the rest, their cake is dough. – Germaine Greer, from ‘The Female Eunuch’ 1971
“I certainly didn’t believe a word of [the final speech] when uttered by Joan Plowright with a slightly sarcastic inflection to her voice which undermines totally any possible virtue the entire excercise might have had – that the two in the end find real love and understanding.” – Morning Star 1972
“a play that seems totally offensive to our age and our society. My own feeling is that it should be put back firmly and squarely on the shelf.” – Michael Billington, 1st Night review 1978
“One would have to be very literal-minded indeed not to hear the delicious irony that is Kate’s undersong, centered on the great line “I am ashamed that women are so simple”… for she is advising women how to rule absolutely, while feigning obedience … Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men (always excepting Falstaff and Hamlet), enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality.” – Harold Bloom, from ‘Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human’ 1998