During the MCP program, our students had a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, including a tour of the sights by BADA faculty member Brian Ridgers, who teaches Cultural History on the program. MCP student Sebastian Baca reviews the production of The Taming of the Shrew which they watched at the RSC during the visit. 

Directed by Justin Audibert, the current production of The Taming of the Shrew at Stratford-upon-Avon re-imagines the over 400-year-old tale by inverting its characters’ gender, making the men of this world subject to and dependent on the women.

This gender-swap drastically changes how an audience experiences the play and, more importantly, incites reflections on gender, violence, society, and humanity. By convention, “The Taming of the Shrew” is a comedy, and there is no shred of doubt about this when watching this production; the main storyline of Kate and Petruchia, but also the subplots surrounding the suitors for Bianco, cleverly extract every last bark of laughter from the audience. The comedy flourishes in the first half and continues into the second, where it could be argued that it fails to reconcile with the darker tones of the play, letting the same humor from Kate and Petruchia’s first encounter upstage the former’s rather tragic taming. However, there is something to be said for this production’s willingness to be blatantly oblivious of itself and ultimately crueler to Kate than the alternative, having the women around him laugh themselves and the audience silly till the very end. By leaving the cruelty unacknowledged, the production becomes inevitably funnier and simultaneously darker.

This duality is best exemplified in the production’s fearless approach to the events of the play, chiefly the interactions between Kate and Petruchia, which highlights a continued acceptance of violence by the audience. After experiencing this production, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the traditionally cast play to Shakespeare’s original audience, as it becomes clear that we as human beings are no less hungry for someone to laugh at now than we would have been 400-plus-years ago. In this way, the greatest achievement of the gender-swap used in this production is to show the play’s relevance as an example of cruelty rather than the more superficial interpretation of it as an example of sexism. Thus, this production evidences how abuse transcends gender (as we probably wouldn’t laugh at the same events if the gender’s weren’t flipped), and in a way calls upon its audience to assume a more comprehensive, gender-blind view of the world and people’s actions against each other.

As most theater of import, “The Taming of the Shrew” is a commentary on society, and the commentary of this production is two-fold, applying first to the society of the characters in the play (less an indictment on matriarchy and more so on supremacy) and then to the society of the audience experiencing the play (more than anything an indictment on our lack of empathy outside of conventional circumstances). For better or worse, the play highlights human’s oxymoronic nature, a nature which results in the oxymoronic reality of juxtaposed comedy and tragedy and, above all else, reminds us that perspective is everything.

By Sebastian Baca

Photograph by Ikin Yum © RSC