The Taming of the Shrew

May 4 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆    Suspiciously old-fashioned

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 3 – Fri 5 May 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Edinburgh Makars’ production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, at the Church Hill until Friday, is an apparently traditional version of the play which may well be more quietly subversive than many modern revisions.

It is certainly a work that presents problems to audiences. The story of two sisters presents a portrayal of relationships that can be distinctly unpalatable. The suitors of younger Bianca are set to be disappointed in their plans for marriage, until a husband can be found for her more independent-minded older sister Katherine.

Eva Traynor (Katherina), Martin Burnell (Baptista) and Liam Mortell (Petruchio). Pic: Pierre Deroubin

Many productions have tried to ameliorate or undermine the attempts of Petruchio to ‘tame’ Kate, but this often leads to confusion, or making the story even less approachable. Others have confronted the conflict head on, ramping it up to almost-horror levels, or stressed the artificial, farcical nature of the tale.

As is usual nowadays, this production lacks the distancing effect of the prologue, but director Graeme Trotter dials up the artifice elsewhere. There is no attempt at modernisation or realism on a set (designed by John Brown, and well lit by Gordon Hughes) composed of roughly painted flats. A fiddler (the excellent Kate Miguda) walks the stage, sometimes seemingly audible to the cast, sometimes not.

The characters, dressed in the kind of costumes that would be a cartoonist’s go-to image of Shakespeare, are often arranged in a series of tableaux. They enunciate the lines to the audience rather than each other, occasionally striking attitudes of the type that would have been recognisable the last time there was a King Charles.

The wonderfully clear dialogue means the audience cannot help but focus on the language – apposite when one of Petruchio’s tactics with Katherine is to make her agree that language has become divorced from its meaning, with words signifying exactly (and only) what he says they do.

Frank Skelly (Gremio), Dario Dalla Costa (Lucentio), Kieran Laskawy (Grumio), Russell Loten (Hortensio), Martha Lochhead (Curtis), Eva Traynor (Kate) and Liam Mortell (Petruchio). Pic Pierre Deroubin

Productions of Shrew often deal with the perceived misogyny by recourse to convenient and elusive notions of ‘irony’. There is nothing ironic here in the abusive behaviour of Petruchio (a chillingly self-satisfied Liam Mortell) when depriving his wife of food and sleep, or his gaslighting of her. No irony, either, in his straightforward description of Katherine as his property, or in the way that she is literally forced into a betrothal by her father despite physically fighting against it.

There is also conflict derived from the seemingly old-fashioned division of the cast into courtly characters with exaggeratedly plummy accents, and servants whose voices signify a range of geographical backgrounds. Kieran Laskawy’s laddish Grumio is rewarded for his collusion in Petruchio’s schemes with violence both verbal and physical. Martha Lochhead’s servant (who has cleverly invited the audience’s sympathy when clearing the stage in a succession of seemingly interchangeable, undervalued domestics) is treated with undeserved disdain, once again up to the point of physical abuse.

The purely transactional nature of marriage in the play is reinforced throughout. It is made clear that the suitors’ motives are primarily, even solely, financial. The servant Tranio (Alan Sunter), able to impersonate his master Lucentio due to his own facility with RP, puts rival Gremio’s gas at a peep by the production of the series of account books that symbolise his supposed financial power.

Frank Skelly’s Gremio is an extremely interesting characterisation. One of the richer characters who does not sound like an escapee from the Bullingdon club, his description of Petruchio’s loutish behaviour at his wedding ceremony is one of genuine and bewildered sympathy. Lucentio, however, has no scruples about giggling uncontrollably at the thought of such larks and banter.

Kevin Edie (Merchant), Mark Wilson (Vincentio), Kelly Edie (Widow), Alan Sunter (Tranio), Maria Rasinkangas (Bianca), Robert Wylie (Biondello) and Martin Burnell (Baptista). Pic Pierre Deroubin

Dario Dalla Costa’s Lucentio is far from being the wide-eyed juvenile that might be expected. Instead, he is another braying Hooray Henry, happy to exploit Kevin Edie’s glaikit merchant in his pursuit of Bianca, yet reduced to grovelling when his real father arrives.

While the approach taken here does throw much of the subject into sharp relief, it does not always work. The stately presentation does make the first half in particular seem overlong. The style of acting means that the characters seem detached from each other (except perhaps when Eva Traynor’s sparky Katherine or Martin Burnell, enviably fluent as her father Baptista Minola, are on stage).

This means that the already implausible narrative becomes even more difficult to sink into completely. This could be helped by the humour, but – with the exception of Robert Wyllie’s beautifully timed turn as Lucentio’s servant Biondello – the comic elements fall rather flat.


The attempts to give Bianca more agency do not convince, despite Maria Rasinkangas’s spirited portrayal. Eva Traynor’s Katherine is so full of life at first that her appearance as a Stepford Wife in the final act will never satisfy, even though she is afforded an earlier moment of almost desperate realisation.

In the end, that last scene is always going to leave a horrid taste in the mouth, whether you believe it to be sincere, satirical or just plain barking. This is one of a few Shakespeare plays that you need a compelling reason to revive; while this comes closer than many productions to justifying itself, there are always going to be reservations.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval).
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 3 – Friday 5 May 2023
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Makars website:
Twitter: @EdinMakars
Facebook: @edinburghmakars


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