The Taming of the Shrew, Queen's Theatre, London

Striking revival finds layers of humanity in 'chauvinistic' play
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The Independent Culture

"Revelatory" is an overworked word. But one show that undoubtedly deserves that epithet is Gregory Doran's revival of The Taming of the Shrew.

Brought from Stratford to the West End by Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright, this RSC production blows like a fresh breeze through the play, drawing attention to unexpected layers of humanity in its subtext.

This comedy has long been considered an embarrassing lapse by the Bard into coarse chauvinism, and modern directors have tried to address the problem by putting the action in ironic quotation marks.

Rather than find ingenious excuses for the play, Doran's Elizabethan-dress production sets about finding the play. A couple of years ago, he directed a ravishing Much Ado About Nothing and this experience seems to have him alerted him to the intriguing ways in which Katharine and Petruchio can be seen as the rumbustious precursors of Beatrice and Benedick - two innate misfits who have to fight and try each other before they will admit to being deeply kindred spirits.

Doran's most striking suggestion is that the hero is as cracked, both in the sense of damaged and of loopy, as the heroine.

The hilarious macho swagger of Jasper Britton's superb Petruchio is evidently a front to mask an abiding insecurity. The aggression of his behaviour on the wedding day looks like the result of an undue and panicky dose of Dutch courage and throughout he improvises edgily.

Meanwhile, hurtling like a deranged spitfire through the multiple doors of Stephen Brimson Lewis's witty semi-abstract set, Alexandra Gilbreath's embattled, husky-voiced Katharine is humanised through clearly being the love-starved victim of her father's favouritism towards his younger daughter.

There's a lovely moment early on when Petruchio stops her from storming out by cracking a filthy joke about cunnilingus. A cackling Gilbreath blossoms with delight at it: here, at long last, is a male oddball with whom she can do business.

This Shrew dramatises a genuine love-match. From the glum faces of the other females present, it is obvious that Kate's public display of submission at the end is supposed to earmark her as a lucky special case, not a mouthpiece for womankind.