Shakespeare's 'The Taming Of The Shrew' will always be a problematic play, so Nash Theatre have done a great job in modernising and sweetening the action and putting their own special wrapper (complete with twisted ends) around the original script.
The production opens with a silent scene in a bar setting up the plot and then we are thrown into the action of marrying off the women that the play is so well known for: the suitors wish to woo and wed the sweet younger daughter but that isn't a possibility until the feisty elder daughter (the 'shrew') is married off. Only this time it isn't the father making the deals (he's a dropkick drunk propping up the bar)... It's the mother!
Director Jason Nash explains that he wanted to even up the gender disparity in the play by recasting male roles as female roles where possible. Making the mother the driver of settling the 'difficult daughter' certainly adds a fascinating overlay and food for thought. His notes also say that he wanted to emphasise the comedy of the play (in keeping with the season's theme 'Laughter is the Best Medicine') and the female versions of Grumio and Biondello certainly do that! This however is not really because of their gender, but their acting skills and level of comfort with the script.
Shakespeare's verse and vocabulary is inevitably difficult for modern audiences who don't know the play: fortunately none of the cast resorted to the declamation that often plagues community theatre, but some try to characterise and naturalise a bit too much with the result that we don't have time to comprehend the words or meaning. The protagonists however generally manage a good balance and Kate Rhode deserves particular mention for her diction and expression in difficult scenes of archaic word-play where she anchors the comedy.
Despite all the fun, 'The Taming Of The Shrew' remains a difficult play about power and gender expectations. We can never know what Shakespeare intended or what interpretations he expected his audience(s) to take away. We can choose to see anything from satire to authorised sexism. Perhaps that's why it continues to intrigue and be performed. I like that this production doesn't try to decide for you or apologise for the script but rather poses its own more modern questions (why would Kate support Petruchio at the end?).
When you go to see it, read a synopsis first, take note at the beginning, and enjoy the sting in the tail!
'The Taming Of The Shrew' plays Nash Theatre until 3 June.