Time Zone’s The Taming of the Shrew offers up an alternative view of this play. Rather than debating the feminist issues that are relevant to contemporary audiences, this production moves the plot from the 16th century and locates it in our contemporary society. The main thrust of the action (as it is in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) is of money and marriage. Pamela Schermann’s treatment of the story is not that of several marriage suitors competing for Bianca’s hand, in tandem with Petruchio’s wooing and ‘taming’ of Katharina. She emphasises the theme of the male characters buying the eligible sisters, as well as Hortensio’s convenient marriage to the rich widow. To further the realism, out go the Induction with Christopher Sly et al. This is not a play that is dreamed up, but one that is more of a nightmare.
To further drive home the production’s point, the girls’ father, Baptista Minola, is now a woman, and one who is more a madam than a mother. She is business-like and cold as ice whilst discussing dowries with Petruchio, Gremio and Lucentio. This is a woman who wants to serve her own interests and does not give a toss about her girls, who we first encounter, each one sitting in front of a triptych of mirrors being confronted by the male gaze.
The strength of this production is derived from Petruchio’s treatment of Kate. Initially all seems like the usual knock-about humour, with the couple trading slap for slap and knock for knock. The real action begins after the couple’s marriage when the ‘Tamer’ (as he is described in the programme) deprives his new bride of food, water, warmth and sleep. He does not treat her kindly or gently, nor is there any hint that he will, or will even show her any affection. I was once told that the Irish take a new dog outside and give it a good thrashing until it bends to the owner’s will; this is how Kate is tamed before she returns to the family home after her wedding.
The final scene of the play, when Petruchio wagers that his wife is more obedient than the other two, presents a shock effect. Directors often struggle with a way to present Kate in a way which will satisfy modern audiences, even settling for a wink tipped from the stage to show that she does not mean the words she mouths about thy lord, thy king, thy governor. This tamed wife appears on stage cowed and bowed, wearing dirty, bedraggled clothes and a nasty bruise over her eye. She spouts the final speech as if she has been rehearsing it to be word perfect, although it is delivered with a complete lack of expression, emotion and devotion. Whilst she is pledging allegiance to the man who is now her lord, king and governor, he is totally oblivious to her wretched state, sitting on a stool and examining his nails. She has been well and truly tamed and the other new husbands throw down his winnings with disgust.
Schermann makes it clear in the programme notes that this production is viewed alongside media revelations of human trafficking. When Kate (played by the Canadian Carmina Cato, and with a hint of South East Asian features) runs from the stage at the end of the play it would be easy to believe that she is off to work in a nail bar, or the sex trade in order to pay off her debts.