After their success with Twelfth Night earlier this week, Propeller, the all-male theatre company, treat Nottingham audiences to yet another polished and thought provoking production of a Shakespeare classic. The Taming of the Shrew is often pigeon holed as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, but it’s a struggle to find humour in the relentless emotional abuse and psychological ‘training’ of Katherine (Dan Wheeler) at the hands of her new husband Petruchio (Vince Leigh). Amongst the frivolity of weddings and battles over hearts, this play is dark at its core and this is made only starker by the superb all-male cast of this production, directed by Edward Hall.
This attrition of Katherine’s ‘shrew’ nature takes place against the background of her arranged wedding to Petruchio. This event exists within the dream of Christopher Sly (Vince Leigh), the drunk who is led to believe he is a lord, a common folkloric device. The festivities are populated by the celebrated Propeller chorus, who are cast as the wedding guests in this production. Costumed in the contents of Baptista’s ‘wardrobe of life’, from the platforms of the 80s to the fringed jackets of the Wild West, the stage becomes a living history picture- book, demonstrating the timeless nature of Shakespeare’s writing and in particular the misogynistic themes of this play.
This theatre company are well are truly alive and clearly know no intervals; we were treated to wonderful acoustic performance in the foyer between Act 1 and 2. Musical talent is likewise evident throughout the production in the form of on-stage melodies played by various members of the chorus. Emotion is heightened by the additional narration from a clarinet or saxophone, whilst the grandeur of Italian wealth is evoked by whole chorus renditions on a variety of instruments – from the bass guitar to the triangle.
It is against this background of frivolity however, that one human is exerting such power over another. As the scheming, domineering Petruchio, Vince Leigh has the audience at his beck and call from the start; evoking, and then silencing, laughter with the twitch of a smile or stamp of a heel. The same immediacy is not demonstrated by Katherine, but when the moment of submission does arrive, Wheeler’s shattering monologue portrays the true extent of the damage to the human, not female, soul.
The single gender of the Propeller cast clearly articulates that the raw and relentless abuse they portray on stage can be found in relationships of all genders, races and sexuality. As the company were eager to highlight in their insightful post-show discussion; this play is about humans, and what we do each other, whether we are men or women is irrelevant.
The same could be said for the majority of Shakespeare’s plots. Luckily, Propeller divulged that Arts Council sponsorship has confirmed their return to Nottingham next year. Keep eye an out, and make sure you see them; you’ll find new depths of meaning in those Shakespeare plays that you thought you knew back-to-front.