In my younger days, the fashion was for directors to try to squirm out from under this play and its distasteful display of a man gradually wearing his wife down into pitiful obedience. They would either go into denial and have Kate wink at Petruchio and the audience as she “pretended” to submit or make Petruchio some kind of therapist figure bringing Kate into a state of greater empathy and maturity (Jonathan Miller’s BBC Shakespeare version with John Cleese and Sarah Badel).
Fudge. Just tell the story. I’m ready for a version that simply gives us the play without apologizing for it, and allows me to make my own mind up about it. As indeed does the Marlowe Society version with Derek Godfrey and Peggy Ashcroft, played straight as an arrow. Indeed, Godfrey is a more subtle Petruchio than I’m used to – certainly more so that than Peter O’Toole’s (an abridged version exists), full of explosions and sudden shifts in mood; an oddly charismatic and dangerous beast. Godfrey hits his notes with greater care – he is never mad, and never really seems in danger of losing control. At worst he seems stubborn and rather daffy. And there’s a loss in momentum, perhaps, but I appreciate the added depth this provides.
Katherine was one of the triumphs that renewed Peggy Ashcroft’s perennial popularity as a stage actress. In the late 50s and early 60s, she brazenly undertook roles traditionally given to performers decades younger and audiences were delighted. It’s a little harder to see the brilliance so many years later. True, she had an expressive voice and a fine technique – but also true that she had a tendency to sound strident in a defiantly middle aged manner, with an intermittent quaver that completely negated any projection of youthfulness. Her performance is enjoyable, especially her spirited final speech – but you you have to decide to make allowances early on.
I delighted in a fine supporting cast, especially Michael Bates’ Grumio (Bates will be the Shakespearean clown in chief for the series) and Donald Layne-Smith’s Gremio, more peppery and funnier than the usual dotard.
The Taming of the Shrew with Derek Godfrey, Peggy Ashcroft, VC Clinton-Baddeley, Michael Bates.