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London actors stage “Shrew”

Claire Reising | Friday, January 25, 2008

In a play known for its complicated array of impersonation and deception, only five actors portray 23 characters, with some of them in disguise for the majority of the play. The Actors from the London Stage take a minimalist approach to Shakespeare in staging “The Taming of the Shrew.” With the exception of a few nondescript chairs and a table, they use no scenery. What’s more, the five actors constantly switch between roles. They wear black costumes and distinguish between most of their roles by changing accessories, props and accents.

This bare-bones production may not be a good choice for viewers who are unfamiliar with “The Taming of the Shrew” because the actors’ multiple roles, combined with the convoluted plot, could make this production difficult to follow. Sometimes, the actors even play two characters within the same scene and carry on a conversation between their different roles. Also, portraying so many different roles with only five actors may lessen the depth of individual characters, but most of the roles in “The Taming of the Shrew” are played for comedy and not depth, so the acting does not suffer much from this minimalist approach.

The actors establish a chaotic, yet humorous atmosphere throughout the play, exploiting their characters’ quirky personalities and portraying their dilemmas in a humorous light. Martin Parr draws several laughs from the audience, portraying a servant who impersonates a young woman and playing Bianca’s suitor Gremio with an exaggerated accent, and Andy Greenhalgh smoothly transitions between characters just by changing his posture.

The main characters, Katherine and Petruccio, are still likable, despite their strong wills and quick tempers. Although Katherine is a “shrew,” Louise Yates makes her seem like a rational character, and the audience can sympathize with her assertions of independence and her frustrations with the other characters. For example, in one scene, as Bianca snivels in front of her father, viewers can understand Katherine’s annoyance with her sister. Also, after Petruccio marries Katherine, Yates leaves the audience wondering whether Katherine is actually submitting to him or just humoring him to get what she wants. Likewise, Victor Gardener blends Petruccio’s volatile personality with craftiness and even affection, as he attempts to “tame” his new wife.

Although newcomers to “The Taming of the Shrew” may have trouble understanding the play, viewers already familiar with the comedy will enjoy this alternative approach to Shakespeare as they watch five actors play 23 diverse roles.