The Verve Festival, a new West End showcase of theatre by performers from more diverse backgrounds, roared into life yesterday with a high-energy, gender-bending version of The Taming of The Shrew.
The small but perfectly formed production was at the Above The Arts venue near Leicester Square, where the Verve programme will continue over the next month. The festival includes cabaret, lunchtime shows, discussions and comedy nights all themed around the idea of promoting artists from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) and will explore the ways theatre can engage with marginalised people who often find it less easy to compete with the more privileged Cumberbatch-Redmayne demographic.
The focus on equality of ethnicity and gender is clear in Rae Mcken’s interpretation of The Taming of The Shrew, which swaps the genders of the main characters so now chauvinist swine Petruchio is played by Trinidadian actress Martina Laird (Casualty’s Comfort Jones) while the Kate she’s kissing is Kazeem Tosin Amore who is allowed to keep his beard but is squeezed into a corset and high heels.
It’s deftly directed with plenty of exuberant attitude, a bit disorienting at times as you try to work out who’s who – but then again that’s the point. It also looks great with fine set design and costumes and sits as a strong centrepiece for Verve’s inaugural year. If the blast of Beyonce at the end is somehow inevitable – it’s still good fun.
The Verve Festival continues throughout April at Above The Arts. Tickets to The Taming Of The Shrew are £25 (£20 concessions). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.