The annual visit of Sprite Productions to Ripley Castle is always an event to look forward to with pleasurable anticipation, and this year’s production of The Taming of the Shrew proved to be no exception.
It was a stunning performance, one of the company’s best yet.
One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, written in his twenties, its misogynistic theme has always been controversial and can prove difficult to stage especially in the 21st century. Director Charlotte Bennett decided to set the action in 1947 after the war had altered the role of women, some who wished to return to their roles of wives and mothers and others who had tasted independence through taking jobs traditionally performed by men. This decision allowed Kate to be the independent woman whilst Bianca her younger sister chose to return to pre-war status, and this worked very well. We were eased into the period whilst having our picnics in the beautiful walled garden and listening to 40s music, Glen Miller, the Andrews Sisters etc to get us “In the Mood”!
Then the action began with a bang! Petruchio and his personal servant Grumio arrived reasonably intoxicated on a vintage motorbike and made two noisy circuits of the walled garden, which set the tone for a fast moving, funny, action packed performance. Richard Corgan’s confident Petruchio was wonderfully rumbustious and drunken (most of the time!). Becci Gemmell as Kate was a perfect ‘Fiend of Hell’ fighting against everything and everyone. The scenes between the two of them were bristling with physical energy and a strong underlying current of sexual attraction. In contrast sister Bianca, played by Claire Timmins, was sweet, amenable and patient – the perfect daughter – with suitors lining up for her hand, Gremio a gentleman of Padua, a very funny performance by Alex Barclay strutting about in a self satisfied manner in contrast to Philip Bejamin’s less flamboyant, but as funny, Hortensio, and when the third suitor Lucentio arrived from Pisa with his servant the ‘plot thickened’.
Traditionally the audience moved about the castle grounds following the actors to different scenes under the guidance of two pretty girls chivvying them along, with each scene causing much mirth with some super comic performances especially from John Edgley Bond’s Grumio, and a deadpan Nigel Hastings as Baptista - the father of Kate and Bianca. All the actors gave great performances, it is not easy to perform in the open air but every word could be heard.
Nicky Bunch produced some imaginative and varied costumes, and without giving too much away, watch out for Petruchio dressed for his wedding. Director Charlotte Bennett is to be congratulated, I came away from this production with the strong feeling that Kate may have become the obedient wife but she would nevertheless get her own way in her marriage.
On a sad note it is possible that this will be the last time Sprite Productions will visit Ripley Castle, due to lack of funding, so please give yourselves a treat and enjoy this talented troupe of players, Taming of the Shrew is on until July 8.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Sprite website.