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Wednesday 20 August 2014

ALL-WOMAN CAST TAMES THE SHREW

Emer O'Kelly

Published 18/08/2013 | 04:00

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Kilkenny Castle yard (for the Kilkenny Arts Festival) is the only venue in Ireland for the Shakespeare's Globe summer tour, and it's nice to know that we are included in the United Kingdom: artistic director Dominic Dromgoole's programme note points out that the piece tours "throughout the UK and then on to Malta, Austria, Hong Kong and Singapore". But then, his autobiography was called chummily Will and Me (Shakespeare, that is) so maybe his socio-political awareness is a little pre-20th Century.

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But at least this year's offering of The Taming of the Shrew is incomparably better than last year's As You Like It, which showed dismaying likelihood that Dromgoole's admittedly inspired idea of touring a 'junior' company with limited Shakespearean 'booth stages' was probably a clever piece of money-making with minimum outlay in these times of austerity.

One of the many ways in which Joe Murphy's production of The Taming of the Shrew comes up to scratch is the fact that the young company of eight women playing all the roles actually make themselves heard out of doors. And the fairly elementary procedure of playing the piece on the raised booth stage rather than at ground level in front of it, ensures that the actors can also be seen, a vast improvement on last year.

Murphy's interpretation is traditional until the very last minutes. We're accustomed to Katherina finally bending the knee, to present her hand for the ease of Petruchio's foot, should he wish to place it there, to which he replies, enchanted, "Kiss me, Kate". I've seen interpretations (the Burton-Taylor film, for one) in which she finds fulfilment in her submission; in others, she has surrendered with less romantic intent for the pleasures of lucre rather than sex.

But Murphy has his Kate (Kate Lamb), bullied and defeated, receive the kiss unresponsively, her body stiff with fear and loathing. And it fits very well with the notion of shrewishness and its punishment in Shakespeare's day: anyone who has seen a scold's bridle even in the unreality of a museum – the thick, crude iron bar as a gag, with its inward spiked prong to pierce the tongue savagely should the scold attempt to speak – can have no illusions as to a wife's place in Elizabethan society.

On the more traditional side, Kathryn Hunt makes a splendid father, Baptista, with Olivia Morgan as Bianca, Becci Gemmell as Lucentio, and a thoroughly upstanding Leah Whitaker as Petruchio. The cast is completed by Remy Beasley, Joy Richardson and Nicola Sangster.

Corin Buckeridge's sprightly original music score is played by various members of the cast to great effect, and the costumes by Hannah Clark lend themselves to the overall exuberance.

* * *

There's passion and eloquence in Naomi Elster's play Scabs, and that's pretty good for a first work. The play is a tribute to the 1913 Dublin lock-out in the year of its centenary, and plays lunchtime at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's bar on Eden Quay in Dublin, with additional 7pm performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week.

The play centres on labourer Audeon Kelly and his feminist wife Nora Casey as they struggle for a better life for their small daughter.

William Martin Murphy, the driving force behind the vicious clampdown on the strikers, makes an appearance, as does Jim Larkin, with a young union activist and a venal overseer in the background.

Elster makes her characters well-rounded, and the acting is uniformly good, so the play has great life. But there is a problem with polemical longueurs as Audeon and Nora make lengthy ideological speeches, sometimes to themselves.

Robert Harrington and Aine de Siun play the Kellys, with Sarah Minto as the little girl, and Conor Scott and Seamus Whelan doubling in the other roles. (An attempt at a Liverpool accent for Larkin would help Scott to differentiate between that role and that of the young activist Moore.) Direction is by Liam Halligan, although the author is also credited with direction in her programme biography.

Sunday Independent

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