Review: Shrew

Ami Jones and team present a one-woman take on one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, The Taming of the Shrew. The results are delightful.

Jones is the eponymous Shrew of the show: Kate/Katharine/Katherina. The character is barely held together, long-tormented by men taking advantage of her and making decisions for her. From sibling rivalries to familial breakdowns, the character’s life is one that has been pigeonholed. Jones exudes a shifting combination of gravitas and hysteria as the character gradually breaks down to reveal that her life has been made a prison of circumstance through duplicity and neglect. Not even her name is a certainty that belongs to her.

The performance is never quite Shakespearean in language or attitude but nor is it completely modern. The nebulousness of the context successfully and incisively shifts the focus onto the depressingly timeless belittlement of women by men who try to ‘place’ them or sexualize them.

Jones is excellent in showing the consequences of the character’s torment. The context of Shakespeare’s time is forgotten; here the performance has turned the much-mocked shrillness of the original character into a way of mapping and communicating the subtle, lesser-spotted emotional contours of Katherina. As much is inferred about family and emotions as is said, and a new depth is given to a character traditionally used as the muse for male protagonists.

Shakespeare’s play was a comedy, but this performance chimes true of contemporary feminist debates on the harm of ‘lad culture’ without ever becoming a soapbox. Jones recants masculine cliché, the duplicity of romance and the cruelty of looking into a stale future decided by males dominating her life. There are allusions to Miss Havisham but the writing is a clever and visceral rejection of both female and male stereotypes.

The corrosive cost of emotional nastiness is splendidly captured and real pathos is generated by the honesty, and breakdown, of the lead. Riddle’s Court is as apt a venue as could be hoped for: ancient, cramped but with modern adornments, it is idyllically claustrophobic for this unexpectedly terse and psychological exploration. One cannot help but sympathize with the character’s dilemma; the connection between actress and audience is unmistakable.

Interaction with the audience and stage crew, while infrequent, largely broke the continuity of the increasing madness and felt unnecessary. Indeed, a telling aspect of the performance is it succeeds without a Burton-esque foil and is compelling as a solo work. There is a genuine sharing of Katherina’s frustrations as she becomes increasingly furious in the thoughts she shares. It is rare to share these frustrations and rarer still when it’s a gender-specific viewpoint.

It takes a special kind of troupe to make Shakespeare accessible and an exceptional group to make it relevant. Shrew does both in an electrified, heartfelt and impassioned plea to our modern sensibilities.

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