A selection of RSC productions, listed by year and director:
Connall Morrison (2008)
This highly energetic production on the Courtyard's thrust stage did away with attempts at feminism and instead concentrated on the humour of the ludicrous plot, prompting critics to call it 'Carry On Shakespeare'. The production began with a riotous drunken stag party, followed by the entrance of the Players in a lorry with the number-plate 'XME K8'. The skilled comic acting of Michelle Gomez and Stephen Boxer had audiences roaring with laughter, despite Kate's frequent beatings and begging for food with real desperation. Her final speech of submission was delivered in a submissive and robotic way, leaving no doubt that the play's misogyny is no longer palatable by modern audiences.
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Gregory Doran (2003)
Doran's naturalistic Elizabethan-costumed players were placed on a dream-like set. Weathered free-standing wooden doors, some suspended in the air, all led nowhere which allowed a self-consciously theatrical display of exits and entrances. The Induction was cut but the season's pairing and cross-casting of the play with John Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed provided a different kind of framework. The attention of Alexandra Gilbreath's Katharina was quickly caught by Jasper Britton's Petruchio when she realised that he would listen to her, engage with her, make her laugh and praise her. The sincerity and warmth with which this Katharina imbued her final speech were rewarded by her husband's emptying out his winnings in a shower of gold. Petruchio exited with his new wife in his arms and not the gold: she was his true newfound wealth.
Gale Edwards (1995)
Flashes of lightning and a stormy sky opened this Induction in which it was Sly's wife (played by Josie Lawrence), rather than the hostess, with whom the drunkard was quarrelling. She finally abandoned her attempt to persuade him back into the house and he fell into a stupor. The arrival of the Lord and his huntsmen had the air of a nightmare. The ensuing taming story became Sly's dream in which he, as Petruchio, enjoyed the swash-buckling qualities so lacking in his real life. His dream world had an exuberantly eclectic style: the troupe of actors stepped through a proscenium which had magically risen at the rear of the main stage. The costume and look of the various characters were derived from a miscellaneous range of stage traditions: commedia dell'arte, pantomime, Victorian melodrama, modern pop culture and so on. Josie Lawrence's Katharina began her final speech with energy and sincerity, trusting her husband to have her best interests at heart, until she caught sight of the pile of bank notes representing the men's wager. Her tone changed radically then into one of biting anger and scorn. Petruchio's lines asking for a kiss before bed were cut and he was left isolated as the players departed back through their archway. Michael Siberry's Petruchio morphed back into Sly, waking from his dream and finding comfort and consolation in his wife's embrace.
Bill Alexander (1992)
Amanda Harris's Katharina fell in love with Anton Lesser's Petruchio after the exchange of their first long look - not that she was going to let him know that, of course. Their emotional journey was clearly placed within the context of the play-within-the-play. The Induction was rewritten into modern English as 'Lord Simon' and his well-dressed friends took home the drunken Sly in order to 'mess about with his mind.' The aristocrats and their deluded 'guest' remained as an on-stage audience throughout the play. The actor playing Petruchio called on them to take the roles of his servants, roughly making them pull off his boots and give him water. As they stumbled over the pages of their scripts, Petruchio abused them and Katharina pitied them. At the final feast, players and aristocrats mingled as guests and servants in order to listen to Katharina's speech. When one of Lord Simon's guests was commandeered to play the Widow she threw away her script, spoke for herself and then left with the players, having had her fill of the ruling classes.
Jonathan Miller (1987)
In the place of the Induction, a group of half-masked commedia dell'arte musicans played Renaissance music before the partly-drawn curtain was pulled back to reveal Lucentio and Tranio arriving in Padua. The taming story was thus presented as a realistic social comedy, set in an historical context in order to explore the Puritan concept of the companionate marriage. This Katharina, played by Fiona Shaw, was a psychologically sick, neglected child in need of Petruchio's careful therapy. She delivered her final speech with sincerity and love, to the applause of the assembled company. She kissed her husband, played by Brian Cox, before joining in the communal Puritan hymn.
Barry Kyle (1982)
Helped by additions from The Taming of A Shrew, Sly scrambled on and off stage, dressed in a rich gold cloak and accompanied by his page boy 'wife' as he watched the play-within-a-play, retreating to the wings when the main action began. The costumes also worked to stress the theatricality of the experience, with Gremio dressed as one of the three kings in a Nativity play, Bianca as an overgrown infant in pig-tails and the Pedant returning from a mountaineering holiday and abseiling for his first entrance down the side of the proscenium arch. Sinead Cusack and Alun Armstrong invested their Katharina and Petruchio with enormous comic energy, and had achieved a real bond together by the end of the play.
Michael Bogdanov (1978)
This production's contemporary setting generated a provocative and demanding relevance, presenting the taming story as a distasteful exhibition of male chauvinism and exploitation. The huntsmen threw a vixen's bloody pelt down upon the sleeping drunkard and, instead of a play-within-a-play, the ensuing action took the form of Sly-as-Petruchio's dream of male domination and power. The rewritten Induction had its Sly figure emerging from amidst the audience settling into their seats just before the show began. He abused an usherette who was trying to calm him down before clambering up onto the stage and wrecking the pretty Italianate set. Only then did it become clear that this frighteningly unpredictable man was a role performed by the actor Jonathan Pryce and fully part of the play. This was a new version of Sly, who went on to dream of himself as the fantasy figure, Petruchio. Katherina (Paola Dionisotti, who had first appeared in the guise of the usherette) delivered her speech of wifely duty in a toneless, lifeless voice. Petruchio had the grace to look ashamed of what he had done but this did not stop him securing his winnings on his way out.
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Clifford Williams (1973)
Slide projections on the back wall of the stage initiated the Induction, informing the audience of the plague rats infesting London in 1592, enforcing the closure of the playhouses and the touring of the playing companies. Any sense of a conflict deriving from class oppression in the treatment of Sly was avoided by the absence of the Lord and his hunting party. In this version, the exhausted players pitched camp for the night in the hollow in which Sly was already sleeping. His unexpected presence provided them with a much-needed audience, allowing them to express their talent for improvisation and imagination. The bleak darkness of the stage brightened to the warmth of company and community as their play got under way to the enthusiastic appreciation of Sly. Alan Bates and Susan Fleetwood took the leading roles.
John Barton (1960)
This production took advantage of the recently-installed revolving stage, giving glimpses of the players relaxing behind the scenes as the set alternated between the exterior and interior of a country inn. Additions from The Taming of A Shrew allowed Sly, his 'wife' and the Lord to remain as an on-stage audience throughout. At the end, the players packed up and went off, reminding the audience that, in the story of Katharina and Petruchio, they had been watching a play. The age gap of 35 years between the leading actors, Peggy Ashcroft and Peter O'Toole, disappeared in performance. With untidy red hair and a flaming red dress, Ashcroft was described by one reviewer as 'unglamorous and miraculously young'. The pairing of her unquenchable radiance and O'Toole's high-spirited charm and physical attractiveness made an irresistible partnership.
A full list of RSC productions with details of cast and production team can be found in the RSC Performance Database on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.
Written by Rebecca Brown and Suzanne Worthington © RSC
Photo by Reg Wilson shows Katharine (Amanda Harris, left) interrogating Bianca (Rebecca Saire, right) about her suitors in the RSC's 1992 production of The Taming of the Shrew © RSC