Considering the hundreds of years that separate us from the Bard’s heyday, it only seems that Shakespeare is becoming more relevant to the modern audience. There is not a play in his folios, that has not be re-cut, re-imagined and altogether changed in meaning beyond the Elizabethan playwrights wildest imaginings. The Taming Of The Shrew seems like it would provide a particularly knotty problem for modern productions, considering it’s attitudes towards the battle of the sexes which could most charitably be described as ‘unreconstructed’ in the era of Metoo. However in many ways that tension has proved it to be one of Shakespeare’s most reliably entertaining comedies for the modern era. However it’s hard to really get a new read on it, whilst always entertaining, you know what you’re going to get.
This is not the case in the current production of Taming Of The Shrew, by the accurately named theatre company Shake-Scene Shakespeare. This feat is not accomplished by particularly unique staging or interpretation of the text but by reverting to a method of rehearsal that most actors would deem cruel and unusual punishment. Working from a ‘cue-script’ each actor is only presented with their own lines and their immediate cues, never rehearsing together and going on stage with the kind of doomed determination last seen on the faces of soldiers going over the top in the First World War. Due to this stylistic quirk, mistakes and missed cues become a feature rather than a bug and unexpected comedy blooms out of actors referring to missed lines, awkward pauses litter the performance like minefields and the threat of corpsing looms like a grinning moon.
This does mean that whilst the comedy of the play is still existent [and the slower pace caused by the actors feeling their way through means that the lines can actually be digested easier than in a standard performance] it definitely plays second fiddle to the cue-script conceit. The plight of [the quite excellent] Katherine (Helen Rose-Hampton) vanishes amidst the shrieks of ‘LINE’ but really the fault lines of potential disaster is what the audience has really come for. All the thespians involved acquit themselves well [or as well as can be expected under the circumstances] but really this is Shakespeare as circus and I could not recommend it higher.