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Newbury Dramatic Society - The Taming of the Shrew

16th to 19th November 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Playing for laughs

Newbury Dramatic Society: The Taming of the Shrew, at New Greenham Arts, from Wednesday, November 16 to Saturday, November 19

Shakespeare's difficult, dark comedy of domination, manipulation and deception is often played as bawdy farce; sometimes as a bleakly serious attempt to portray contemporary sexual politics. In this Newbury Dramatic Society production, under Suzanne Hudson's direction, the farce and feminist interpretation is played down and the wit and double entendres of the script allowed to shine through.

In essence, the play tells the traditional story of the father, Baptista (Neil Taylor), favouring his younger, 'sweeter than perfume' daughter Bianca (Jess Spath), over his mean-spirited scold of an older daughter Katherina (Rhiannon Bland, perfectly obstreperous yet vulnerable). Everyone wants to marry lovely Bianca, but no one wants her evil-tempered sister Kate.

In fact, despite the lure of a fat dowry any man who would marry her would be considered a fool and to be 'married to hell'. Unfortunately for Bianca and her suitors, Baptisa declares that Bianca will not be married before Kate.

Enter dissolute, yet domineering Petruchio (Phil Campbell) who hatches a plot to tame Kate and win the dowry and noble, romantic, dunderhead Lucentio (Parry Bates) who falls for Bianca's sweet charms. Lucentio in turn hatches a complicated plan to win Bianca by pretending to be someone else and changing clothes with his servant Tranio, who impersonates Lucentio. This allows Caroline Tripp as Tranio to bring out the comedy of the lowly woman playing the aristocratic man with amusing and adept characterisation and vocal changes. With Craig Stainthorp, outstanding in his first major role, perfectly cast as Petruchio's manservant and comic foil Grumio. Paul Strickland and Keith Phillips as Hortensio and Gremio, respectively, suitors to Bianca, warrant particular mention for their fine characterisation and comic timing.

The minimalist set of a symbolic tree and subtle, clever lighting by Vicky Allen beautifully enhanced the performances of the large ensemble cast who handled the script skilfully.

By setting out to entertain rather than shock or preach to the audience, Newbury Dramatic Society have succeeded with a production that overcomes the potentially difficult subject matter to leave the audience with the light and funny comedy that Shakespeare intended.