The Taming Of The Shrew, Old Vic, Bristol

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The Independent Culture

It's hard, watching this play, not to want to break into song. Kiss Me Kate seems far more appealing, in the same way that Pygmalion can bore where My Fair Lady delights. The scenes in which Kate and Petruchio are absent feel like padding. And, of course, the play famously upsets modern sensibilities on the question of female obedience.

In this three-hour version, the director Anne Tipton puts in the often-omitted Induction, in which a soused tinker, Sly, is conned into thinking he's a lord. Its inclusion is justified by a superb drunk act from Geoffrey Beevers. I wish the rest of the show had kept it up joke-wise; while it plumbs all sorts of depths and looks stylish, it forgets that at heart it's a slapstick comedy.

The pleasures of sunny Padua are denied us by a bleak set of modernist black arches. It is possible that a world of kinky severity is intended. But this is no kiss-my-whip production; it's full of sober, insightful therapy.

Kenny Ireland's chunky Baptista clearly prefers his daughter Bianca (a pouting blonde bimbette from Jenna Harrison) to Katherina, the shrew. Deprived of love, Kate behaves appallingly - no doubt she'd be in line for an Asbo today. A wildcat, she meets her match in Petruchio. The thing between them is that each, surely, scents that the other would be terrific in bed.

But Flora Montgomery's Kate seems more bored than anything else as Petruchio takes her on. She doesn't roar or groan, and her face registers the sort of bad temper you'd expect from a frustrated commuter. She wears a smart dress-suit, which hardly reflects her dishevelled personality. It's an intelligent, lovelorn performance, one which would be fine in another play.

As well as being a flamboyant bully, there's sympathy in Richard Dillane's excellent Petruchio. Not that it makes any difference, as nothing much happens. The chemistry, the volatility, on which the comedy depends doesn't fizz. Without fur flying, there's precious little to watch.

In the denouement, Kate, tamed and in love, walks barefoot down the wedding-table, giving her submission speech with a hint of light irony - the default directorial option. But to reach this point, the rumbustious, caterwauling, face-slapping mayhem has somehow gone missing. Without it, the evening feels tame.

To 27 May (0117-987 7877)

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