Wiving it wealthily in Padua

The Taming of the Shrew, Bridge End Gardens, Saffron Walden, July 20

Lynne Mortimer

The Taming of the Shrew, Bridge End Gardens, Saffron Walden, July 20

It is, sing the entire cast (five) of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the Bard's “most controversial play”, except, possibly for The Merchant of Venice… oh, and maybe Richard II.

The Pantaloons have been bringing us outdoor Shakespeare productions for a number of years now and the company's reputation, like its shows, just go from strength to strength.

For old women's libbers like me, the whole premise of a husband cowing his wife into unthinking obedience is anathema but the Pantaloons carry it off with aplomb.

With the tiny cast taking on all the roles, the dressing-up box almost warrants its own review as the addition of an outrageous beard transforms the lovely Bianca into her ancient suitor Gremio and the removal of bowler hat and glasses, replaced by a mortar board, changes Bianca's father Baptista into another suitor Hortensio.

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Even the eponymous Shrew, Katharina, is called upon to be Tranio.

Fast, physical and tremendously funny, The Pantaloons never let the pace drop. Unafraid of the text, they deliberately add the occasional anachronism which has the dual effect of making the audience laugh and engaging younger members of the audience.

Among the strongly-portrayed characters the company give us a cold and strutting Petruchio, a fierce and intelligent Kate, a simpering Bianca, a gymnastic and adorable Lucentio and a slightly bonkers Hortensio. Dom Conway, Martin Gibbons, Mark Hayward, Caitlin Storey and Sarah Norton are the talented cast.

Their songs are remarkably good. As a warm-up, the audience is asked to shout out the name of a Shakespeare play and The Pantaloons will sing you a song about it.

Okay, so they don't do The Comedy of Errors and Timon of Athens but they're adding to the repertoire all the time so you'll need to be quick to catch them out!

The story of the Shrew revolves around crabby Kate, who has a gorgeous younger sister, Bianca. While Bianca has suitors queuing up to woo her, no-one's even slightly interested in her older sibling. In despair, the girls' father, Baptista, says Bianca can't be married until Kate is.

When Petruchio arrives and agrees to marry Kate - in exchange for a huge dowry - no one takes much account of the fact that his bride-to-be isn't in love with him.

After their wedding, Petruchio hauls her away before the feast, takes her back to his place and treats her cruelly to break her spirit.

But it's the end that is really difficult. How do you deal with that last scene when Petruchio orders Kate about and she meekly submits to her husband's will?

Suffice it to say that Steve Purcell's very clever direction leaves you in no doubt who has really won this gargantuan battle of the sexes.

Shakespeare would have heartily approved.

n The Pantaloons present The Taming of the Shrew free at Dean Gardens for the Edinburgh Fringe, 13-24 August www.thepantaloons.co.uk

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