Millennium Players’ The Tamer Tamed opened last night at the Theatre at the Casa in Liverpool. Presented as a modern adaptation of John Fletcher’s Jacobean comedy sequel to Taming of the Shrew, several edits have been made by Director Maeve Middleton to the story to put it in modern day Liverpool. I am not familiar with the original script but unfortunately there did seem to be several plot holes which made the story difficult to follow. It was difficult to see a strong feminist message in the way that the characters were presented.
The Tamer Tamed tells the story of Petruchio (Kevin Williams) after the death of his wife Kate who he “tamed” in The Taming of the Shrew. He has now remarried but his new wife Maria (Angela McComb) refuses to consummate their union until he meets her demands. She allies with her cousin and Kate’s sister Bianca (Sarah Hall) and they lock themselves upstairs in Petruchio’s house.
There is a sub-plot between Maria’s sister Livia (Abbey Fitzhenry) and Rowland (PJ Murray) who are in love but her father Petronius (Albert Hastings) has resolved to have her marry the much older Gremio (Mick Dalziel). This sub-plot presents a more traditional female role and the often used plot of star crossed lovers being kept apart.
The play opened with a pre-recorded monologue by Kate (Sarah Hall). Her grave was on the stage with other characters entering in a funeral procession and laying flowers. I assume that the monologue was supposed to set the scene for the play but regrettably much of it was inaudible.
The costume concept was good. Most of the cast were dressed in loud brash suits, giving an appearance of false class and overinflated egos. Maria wore a white skirt and top and had white flowers in her hair. This was both symbolic of her wedding dress and the obedient purity that Petruchio had perceived her to have. However the skirt featured embroidered pink flowers which implied that she was more complex than she first appeared. This was also apparent from McComb’s poise. She stood tall throughout the production and never hesitated to speak to men clearly without grovelling to them. Williams wore a cream linen suit which was slightly smarter and better quality than the other costumes giving him an air of slight superiority while still implying that his class was imagined more by him than existing in reality.
The Casa is a small theatre and it can be difficult to perform with a larger cast on the stage. Clever use was made of the set in that when the women were locked in the house they were standing at a higher level than the men. Their looking down on them created a symbol of higher emotional and moral status. However there were times that the space that was there was not utilised in the best way that it could have been. There was a tendency for the actors to stand in straight lines which caused some issues with blocking. Some of the cast would stand in front of other people when moving then talk with their faces away from the audience. Staggering the placement of actors in these scenes would create a more interesting dynamic where status and perceived status could be explored and prevent the view of the actors being affected. Delivering lines facing the audience would make what was being said clearer and easier to understand.
Hastings as the old fashioned and violent Petronius was one of the stronger performances. His bitterness and cynicism were believable and his threats of violence were convincing. Towards the end of the play he became more of a comical caricature which was symbolic of his daughters breaking him and the traditional male role down.
Another good performance was delivered by Adam Byrne as Hortensio, Petruchio’s friend who Maria flirts with. His delivery and intention was clear and he definitely stood out as a member of the supporting cast.
Murray’s performance as Rowland was by far the strongest in the cast. His ability to show the emotional rollercoaster which his character travelled on was excellent in its simplicity.
Sadly the play felt very under rehearsed; the stage was often left empty with the cast entering late. The prompt was heard often from very early on in the play and Williams broke character several times asking the prompt to repeat his line. He then broke the fourth wall entirely by making a joke to the audience that he had to be reminded of everything. Late in the second half he entered script in hand and spent the rest of the play reading all of his lines from it. This caused several pauses while he tried to follow where he was on the paper and spoiled any dramatic illusion which was left at this point.
The overuse of prompt was also highlighted by the fact that many of the actors did not know their cues. This was particularly evident with McComb who talked over other actors on several occasions and nearly interrupted them many more times. Rather than continuing after these instances the actors would loop back and repeat the lines which had been talked over with McComb repeating hers after that. This created a juddery unnatural performance.
There was very little backstage discipline and actors who were offstage could be heard talking and moving around most of the time. Many of the actors on stage struggled with projection and the constant conversation backstage did not help.
Maria’s demands mainly consisted of her being provided with jewels, horses and many other material things, so it was difficult to see where the feminist message in this play lay. Her constant demands for high value trinkets made her appear selfish and shallow. The portrayal of Maria and Petruchio made the role of men in the story more sympathetic. It would have been better if Maria demanded respect and fair treatment.
The end of the play was neatly tied up but the “taming” of Petruchio seemed to come out of nowhere and felt very artificial. Again I am not familiar with the original script, but it did feel like something had been missed which would have made the resolution more believable.
The Tamer Tamed had some good elements and with further rehearsal and exploration of the script has the potential to be a good show exploring the role of women and men in marital, parental and platonic relationships.
The Tamer Tamed will be performed again on 21 July at the Theatre at the Casa. Tickets are available here.