The Theatreguide.London Review
The Tamer Tamed
Queen's Theatre Winter 2003-2004
Playing in rep with the Royal Shakespeare Company's current Taming of the Shrew is this newly-discovered oddity, a sequel to Shakespeare's comedy written about twenty years later by John Fletcher, and not performed, as far as anyone can tell, in the past 200 years.
And if the play is, inevitably, not as good as Shakespeare's, a rollicking production by Gregory Doran makes it, after a slow start, as good a night out as most brainless comedies today can offer.
Fletcher's premise is that Kate, the shrew of Shakespeare's play, has died, and her wild husband Petruchio is marrying the quiet Maria just for some peace.
But Maria is just as willful as her predecessor, only more subtle and clever about it, and she sets about to tame her husband.
First she pulls a Lysistrata-type sex strike, with some of the other townswomen joining in.
When he fights back by pretending to have been made ill by abstinence, she announces he has the plague and quarantines him. When he pretends to die, she pretends to rejoice, and so on, until he capitulates.
Part of the joke of the production is having Alexandra Gilbreath, who plays the tamed Kate in The Shrew, double as her avenger in this play, while the triumphant Petruchio from Shakespeare is played by the same Jasper Britton here.
(Some other members of the company appear in both plays as well, in a couple of cases playing the same characters.)
A check of my review of The Shrew will discover that I complained that Doran and his cast didn't do much to enhance or add to the comedy already there in the words, and it may be because they had less faith in Fletcher that they have hoked this play up somewhat more, almost always to its benefit.
No word or phrase with the remotest possibility of a double entendre is allowed to go by without underlining, and the two leads clearly have fun with the one-upsmanship of their characters' battle of wits.
Jasper Britton turns the idea of playing sick into an extended series of trial coughs and sputters, while her invitation to the women of the town to join in her defiance develops into a percussive dance number that wouldn't be out of place in Stomp.
Renaissance theatre buffs will want to see this because it may be 200 years until the next opportunity. But, though The Shrew is unquestionably the better play, the current production of that one is so disappointing that the casual theatregoer might actually find this one more fun.
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