Interview: Directing The Shrew

Taming
Image credit: Johannes Hjorth


Fresh from a summer of touring around the US, CAST’s Taming of the Shrew is set to be the show to catch this Fresher’s week as it arrives home to the ADC. We caught up with the show’s director Kennedy Bloomer to discuss the challenges of staging such a problematic show, life on the road, and why he’s thrilled to be back in Cambridge.
 

Could you tell us about how you creatively approached such a classic piece?

I wanted to take on a comedy play that could inspire and engage audiences and American students, but not direct a naturalistic and realistic version of Taming that can so easily become simplified into a misogynistic and abusive relationship between [protagonists] Katherina and Petruccio. To counteract this and create a more layered show, I decided to go for a farcical, performative style. Being a play within a play, Taming is presented for Christopher Sly, a drunken beggar and we focused on sending up the misogyny and patriarchal relations within the play with physical comedy. Our Katherina and Petruccio are as equally fiery as each other, keeping their relationship alive by keeping themselves on their toes.

Updating the play from a potentially distancing Jacobean period and aiming to help the students engage with the archaic and alien language, we decided on a 1980’s England setting, allowing audiences to be able to identify the extremely recognisable era of bright, block colours, big hair and electropop. The music and fashion of the era immediately create recognisable stock characters, allowing students to easily distinguish the age and class of the characters.

 

How was the show received in the States?

Really well! We had a great reaction from all of our audiences on tour, even when we’ve had a small audience there is always audible laughter and a lot of interest at the Q and A sessions we run immediately after the show. We had great feedback from students and teachers alike, telling us that usually Shakespeare leaves their students confused and bored, but we have been able to put on a show that they understand and holds their attention, which is great to hear. As we only had nine spaces for actors on the tour and a play that has over 20 different characters, we had to make sure that the different characters were distinguishable physically and audibly. We weren’t sure how far different regional UK, and in some cases European, accents would be understood [especially when] performing in some pretty gigantic theatres which seat over 1000. But we worked really hard on articulation and projection of the language, so the actors could always be heard and followed.

Has the show developed much on the road?

The show changed a lot. I love feedback and was intent on constantly improving the show and trying out new things to keep the tour fresh. The actors are so dedicated and always playing with their characters and it has been an amazing experience watching the show change and develop from the previews. The nature of our version has meant that the actors can experiment quite a lot and as in all theatre, things do go wrong on stage sometimes.

And what about off stage?

Off stage? Well we had jellyfish stings, huge insect bites, a dented car door, a wasp sting to the nose, lost voices and a sudden loss of the whole lighting desk during a show, where all the lights just turned off!

And are you looking forward to bringing the show back to Cambridge?

We are! We are excited for different reactions to a problematic play and to create a buzz of discussion. The Cambridge audiences will most likely be more familiar with Shakespeare and the play itself than the audiences we have had in the states but we are bringing home an easily adaptable educational tour show with actors that are very good at adapting to different audiences so nothing drastic will be changed. You should be extremely excited about the wedding scene and be prepared to come and have a laugh and a good time.

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