Taming Of The Shrew For The Woke Generation At Barbican

Taming of the Shrew, Barbican ★★★★☆

Mike Clarke
By Mike Clarke Last edited 52 months ago

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Taming Of The Shrew For The Woke Generation At Barbican Taming of the Shrew, Barbican 4
Ikin Yum (c) RSC

How do you solve a problem like Katharina — when any self-respecting heroine nowadays would kick most of Shakespeare's men in to touch? Justin Audibert's answer is good old-fashioned role reversal, and it certainly highlights how it was for Elizabethan girls. The only way to tame a shrew now is like this — try it straight and the rancid attitudes would get the raspberry not just from the ladies but many of us boys too.

This is a stylish and stylised production which modernises and makes accessible for a woke generation one of the more "problematic" works - showing why the RSC is still necessary. Yes, there's a deal of that "music with movement" thing the RSC goes in for to emphasise the beginning and end of the acts, and at a little over two and a half hours one does wonder if some of the servant mummery could have gone missing without harm coming to anyone, but overall it's a bold, witty reworking of a not-much-loved-anymore classic. It genuinely had me wondering at points just how much we've really come on — or are we still arguing the same old s**t despite identity politics, gender fluidity and other non-binary options?

Ikin Yum (c) RSC

Katharina and Bianca as boys who do girls who do girls like they're boys give you a David Walliams for grown ups moment. One is coy yet rogueish, and therefore marriageable, the other is outspoken and physical — Joseph Arkley wisely avoiding camp — but eventually (sadly) brought to heel literally, by a firm, female hand. While there's more than a little Miranda 'Queenie' Richardson in Claire Price's realisation of Petruchia, she is a commanding and convincing tamer, and is complemented by Amanda Harris as mother-of-the-bride-from-hell Baptista, who has just a hint of Norma Desmond in the latter stages of Sunset.

Sets by Stephen Brimson Lewis use a galleried space and the sweep of the apron effectively, especially with James Cooney's physically gyrating Bianco/a — and lots of floor cushions. Shrew is part of a three-work return to the Barbican for the RSC and it should be worth exploring the other productions too.

The Taming Of The Shrew, Barbican, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS, £10-£59.50. Until 18 January

Last Updated 08 November 2019