Taming of the Shrew- June 2016
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Katherina is no mouse
Out of all the adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare this artistic rom-com danced by the Birmingham Royal Ballet must be among the very best.
There have been numerous films, operas and plays based on the bard’s great works but the performance at the Bristol Hippodrome on Wednesday night to a packed house was stupendous – and silly, and funny and awe inspiring.
When she is dancing she is very, very good but when she is a combative firecracker she is very, very horrid.
Who are we talking about – Katherina of course.
But she looks like an angel and is paired with a Johnny Depp lookalike?
Even her arrival on stage is accompanied by hellfire music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Robert Gibbs.
Written in the 1590s the storyline is somewhat dated but the ballet devised by genius choreographer the late John Cranko in1969 has stood the test of time.
Theatre critic Gerry Parker who was in the opening night audience said: “Birmingham Royal Ballet is the crème de la crème of English dance companies and Cranko, a royal favourite, was one of the best dance choreographers ever.”
Notwithstanding my personal favourite Matthew Bourne, it is a magnificent ballet.
Mr Parker added that most productions of the story these days add a little twist at the end to show the ‘shrew’ is not completely ‘tamed’ which is more in keeping with our enlightened times.
The story is all about single father Baptisa (Jonathan Payn) and his two daughters, flirty Bianca (Jenna Roberts) and her fiery big sister Katherina (Elisha Willis).
While Bianca has a trio of suitors – dashing Lucentio (Brandon Lawrence), clumsy clown Gremio (Rory Mackay) and courtier Hortension (Chi Cao) - Katherina scorns all-comers but dad decrees the older daughter should marry first.
The backdrop of an Italian house with that sun-bleached Mediterranean colouring matched by the dancer’s pastel costumes sets the scene as three lute-strumming odd-fellows throw love tokens to Bianca leaning from a Juliet balcony only to get a pisspot emptied on their heads.
Licking their wounds metaphorically speaking the threesome retire to the tavern to drown their sorrows.
Here a drunken Petruchio (Iain Mackay) makes his arm-in-arm entrance with two gaudy ladies-of-the-night (Delia Mathews and Angela Paul) who proceed to strip him of his money, clothes and dignity.
He is left to perform a staggering bare-chested routine dressed only in his long johns while the onlookers hatch a plot.
What follows is some fancy footwork, fisticuffs, bloody nose, horrid honeymoon, the puppetry ‘I do’, atmospheric blue lighting, golden nut tree garden and a kiss and make up finale.
Loved the high-pitched 'singing’, the Cinderella cinders moment curled up to sleep in the heath and tweak on the nose when expecting a kiss…
Katherina as the spoilt bride stomps up the aisle using her bouquet to swat away the wedding confetti like a swarm of unwelcome insects she seems determined not to embrace the ‘for better or worse’ adage.
Petruchio retaliates by making the wedding breakfast and post wedding journey purgatory as he adopts a ‘treat them mean’ power strategy.
I don’t want this to be a kiss and tell review so I would urge everyone to go and see this ballet themselves.
Standout performances? Everyone I have named so far and more.
There are some brilliant solo dances, duets to die for, pas de quatre composed of folding and unfolding bodies moving across the stage in effortless symmetry.
Then there is the comic heel, toe and bumpsadaisy routines with jerky knee movements - pure pantomime.
All conceal intricate footwork by a master choreographer performed with precision and talent and made to measure to demonstrate the contrasting characters.
The corps de ballet’s collective lie-down at the end of Act I was inspired.
When Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor played the warring couple in Cole Porter's adaption called Kiss Me, Kate in the same year as they starred in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the audience thought it was life mirroring art with a mismatched couple screeching and screaming trying to upstage one another.
And in the 1999 teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You based on The Taming of the Shrew starring Heath Ledger as the bad boy it is full of teen angst and awkward poetry.
This is tempered movement to music by dancers in complete harmony - love it, catch it while you can.
What Kate did next on points
PREVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet brings to a close is 2015-16 touring season with John Crano's The Taming Of The Shrew at the Bristol Hippodrome.
The ballet runs at the city centre theatre from Wednesday to Saturday, June 29-July 2.
The internationally acclaimed and award-winning company is one of the world’s leading classical ballet companies and this is the first timeit has performed at the Hippodrome for nearly 20 years.
This is amasterful choreographic depiction of Shakespeare’s perpetually battling lovers, Petruchio and Katherina, and of Petruchio’s determination to bend the feisty, independent-spirited and tempestuous Katherina to his will.
Incorporating a stunning array of dramatic moods, virtuoso dancing and vivid characterisation, The Taming of the Shrew conveys like no other ballet Shakespeare’s wit, brilliant comic invention and sharp understanding of human character.
Originally created for Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, the two-act work has become a staple of the international repertoire, danced by companies across the globe.
Director David Bintley said: "On first seeing The Taming of the Shrew at age 16, I fell in love with the work.
"I knew that if I should ever become director of a company, I would want that piece for the repertoire."
Tickets from £16.40 with concessions.
Further details and to book click HERE.