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Alex Brinkman-Young has bitten off rather a lot in this ambitious production. When this is good, it is very, very good – and, conversely, when it is bad, it is horrid.
‘Set in the radical cultural shifts between the 50s and 60s’ (or so says the flyer), this show, on at the O’Reilly next week, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, closely followed by the little-performed The Tamer Tamed. As a concept, it is not uninteresting, yet there is much to be ironed out for it to really succeed. Especially in a show that encompasses over two hours and more than twenty actors.
Such a juxtaposition, and temporal setting, certainly sets out to ‘provoke thought’. And yet, these ‘radical’ times seem represented in only a very tokenistic way, by means of rockabilly hairstyles and clinging high-waisted trousers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help us to realize any intrinsic truths either about the play or the era. This was true to a certain extent of some of the acting, which, at its worst, seemed more like parody, with actors playing adjectives (think ‘shouty’, ‘aggressive’, ‘sassy’) rather than characters.
On the other hand, some genuinely brilliant talent is showcased: Ben Cohen’s Petruchio is engaging and thoughtful, while Olivia Arigho Stiles’ gender-bending Tranio is one of the strongest bits to this patchy production. Will Bond’s Gremio is also superb, providing much of the limited comic relief sadly absent from this ‘comedy’. Also regrettably lacking is sexual tension - unusual in a play that is so much about gender (and features, largely, quite a ‘fit’ cast).
Directorial touches, when they appeared, are sometimes quite inspired: some well-orchestrated scuffles break up the tedium of conversation, while one scene in which Baptista (Alex Stutt) agrees a match between Kate (Annecy Attlee) and Petruchio is particularly strong. I would have liked to have seen more of these moments elsewhere in the production; enough such scenes could lift this play from mediocrity to excellence. The large cast work well within the space available, and I have high hopes for how they intend to integrate the balcony and aisle. The O’Reilly can be a difficult stage; I have every expectation that they will make the most of this, and that further rehearsals will no doubt make for a more compelling final piece.