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The Taming Of The Shrew, Ripley Castle, June 20 - July 8
ON Sprite Productions’ return to the gardens and woods of Ripley Castle on Wednesday for an eighth season, director Charlotte Bennett will set her promenade production of The Taming Of The Shrew in 1947.
Shakespeare’s most controversial comedy has a “bold and saucy pair of protagonists”, Kate and Petruchio, whose battle of wits amounts to rather more than banter and bawdy badinage, with sleep deprivation – the modern-day stuff of military interrogation, allegedly – being but one tactic.
“The main thing for me was, because it’s such a challenging play, how do you make sense of their love story?” says Charlotte. “Reading the play, you think, she shouldn’t be with his man because he’s so horrible to her, and so you have to work against the text and what it says, but then will the audience take what you’ve done with it, rather than what the text says?”
That audience will be presented with ‘Taming’ being placed two years after the end of the Second World War. “I felt important to set it at a time which helps to make sense of the discussion of gender roles in the play,” says Charlotte.
“1947 felt apt because of the post-war effect on men and women at this time. Women had found new independence through the war and therefore followed a great period of adjustment when men came home from war and the women were expected to return to their traditional roles of wife and mother, producing babies and looking pretty.
“There seems to have been an interesting divide between some women who were happy to return to this, and those who were more keen to embrace their new-found independence.”
When Charlotte directed another psychological minefield, Macbeth, for Sprite last summer, she retained its 11th century setting. This time, taking a Shakespeare play out its original period for the first time, she considered several times of change for women for her version of ‘Taming’.
“I thought about the suffragette movement of the early 20th century, and the Sixties with its sexual liberation, but whereas in 1947 there were still so many restrictions on women set by fathers and men, setting the play in the Sixties would not read true,” she says.
“There were also things that clicked into place once we moved it to 1947, such as references to war by Petruchio.”
The “shrew” of the title can be troubling too. “It was important it was seen as a positive role for a woman, as the term ‘shrew’ is always used in a negative way in the play and in life generally, but I wanted the audience to see her as a shrew more positively, and I feel that by setting it in 1947 I’m addressing that.”
Nicky Bunch’s designs and costumes, rather than the text itself, will lead the shift to the Forties.
“We’ve made Kate a sort of Land Girl character, a hands-on, ‘I want to get on with things’ woman, whereas Bianca is a diva," says Charlotte. "So I asked Nicky to look at films from the 1940s, to make Bianca like a Forties’ movie icon. When she’s around men, she’s very much ‘performed’.”
Utilising three new locations among the eight for this summer’s promenade performances at Ripley Castle, near Harrogate, Sprite’s production will feature such design details as a 1940s lamp and wireless, as well as making the most of the walled gardens and the Orangery, and music will be more to the fore than in 2011’s Macbeth.
“We couldn’t really have a violent musical number last year, but this year we have singing, violin, guitar and a swing dance number,” says Charlotte, whose cast includes the very musical Sprite debutant Jon Edgely Bond, founder of the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, in the role of Grumio.
Becci Gemmell, last seen on a Yorkshire stage in Once Upon A Time In Wigan and Sixty Five Miles at Hull Truck in January and February, will play the volatile Kate. “In the audition, I just thought she was so funny,” says Charlotte, praising an actress best known for her role as Joyce in BBC1’s Land Girls.
“With this play it’s very easy to get caught up in all the politics of the men and women and to forget it’s a comedy, and though there are dark moments, you have to find the laughter.
“If Shakespeare had called it a tragedy, you would buy into that, but he’s labelled it a comedy, even though Petruchio keeps Kate awake at night and deprives her of food.”
Charlotte was struck most by Becci’s spontaneity. “At the audition, she suddenly picked up some biscuits and stuck them in the mouth of the assistant director, and it just felt she would be extraordinarily exciting to work with because she offers so much,” she says.
“She keeps you on your toes, because each night there’ll be something she’ll do that will keep Richard Corgan’s Petruchio surprised, which is what he needs to be.”
Welsh actor Corgan played Macduff in Charlotte’s Macbeth last summer and returns to Ripley after working with Sir Peter Hall at the National Theatre of Wales and playing Dave in BBC Wales’s Baker Boys.
“He’s a very giving actor,” she says. “Petruchio is someone who loves women really and respects them, but he’s also very outlandish and exuberant, and has real warmth to him, and Richard has those qualities about him.
“He’s very manly – the most manly man I’ve ever met!”
Sprite Productions present The Taming Of The Shrew, Ripley Castle, near Harrogate, from Wednesday until July 8. Performances: Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Saturday matinees, 2pm; Sundays, 4pm. Box office: 01423 770632
All performances are promenade; walking will be involved; disabled access is provided. Please note, rugs or chairs are needed for seating. Bring picnics and umbrellas too.
Gates open one hour before each show.
Did you know?
Charlotte Bennett is directing The Taming Of The Shrew, hot foot from being at the helm of Forward Theatre Project’s world premiere of Evan Placey’s teenage thriller, Scarberia, at York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver 2012.
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