The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1032 Saturday, 24 October 1998.
Date: Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 14:29:23 +0100
Last night I took a group of undergraduate students taking a level 2
module called Shakespeare and Ideology to English Touring Theatre's
production of The Taming of the Shrew, currently touring to Poole on the
south coast of England.
An interesting pre-show talk by the director, Stephen Unwin, established
that he had given it a 1998, "up to the second" (his words) setting - in
this case, drawing on certain current stereotypes - what we would call
"Essex girl" for Kate (superficial, uncultured, loud), and the perhaps
more accessible notion of "new money, no culture" stereotype for the
general tone; there was a distinct feel of "loaded"/"new lad" culture
around amongst Kate's suitors (to translate, in a nutshell, new lad = a
retreat to the beer guzzling, sexist pig persona of old).
The show itself had energy and the kind of clarity in the story-telling
that is ETT's great strength. The whole production had an ironic tone,
and it was clear that by the end Petruchio and Kate had come to some
sort of "arrangement", and that we were not to take the submission at
face value (although, confusingly, the director had earlier referred to
the Essex girl stereotype again, talking about the kind of wife who is
content with the big house, flash clothes, two holidays a year lifestyle
and accepts the little woman role as a matter of course). The bridge
between the fiery Kate and the Kate who fondly punched and cuddled her
husband by the time of the sun and moon scene was either unclear or
My conclusions about the production were these:
a) today, either you play the Shrew as tragedy, or you play it
ironically. There are no alternatives, it seems to me (a number of
people who stayed behind for the after-show chat made the point about
the play "not being PC").
b) Stephen Unwin had attempted to sidestep the way the text affirms
by setting it in a section of society that was either post-feminist, or
which feminism had passed by.
c) the whole thing struck me as "William Shakespeare writes Men
(my apologies again to those who may not be familiar with this reference
point MBB is a popular sitcom featuring a couple of "new lads"). You
could laugh at it because the show was liberally coated with irony, but
you still had all this offensive, misogynistic stuff rolling off the
stage at you.
An interesting experiment, all in all, but I was left wondering if this
is one of those plays that finally isn't really worth reviving. Any