WHEN, at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, it is clear Kate will now do her husband's bidding, the astonished Hortensio wonders what this bodes. 'Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life,' replies Petruchio. In this production Brian Protheroe delivers the lines with heartfelt relief. How much he, his director, Jude Kelly, and Nichola McAuliffe (who plays Kate) must wish Petruchio had stopped there and not gone on to attribute this consummation to his 'awful rule, and right supremacy'. The goal of their interpretation is to show Petruchio and Kate establishing a marriage based not on awe but mature respect. It's a tribute to their abilities that we do not have to peep through our fingers to see them bring this off.
'Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?' exclaims Petruchio at their first meeting. Until this moment, that McAuliffe has given Kate a club-foot seems superfluous. But now, as Petruchio prattles on about how 'straight and slender' she is, we see in McAuliffe's face the accumulated pain of her endurance in a world so fixated upon an ideal of female beauty that she - unlike her delectable sister - has never been able to match. We see too the beginnings of interest in Petruchio, with the shock that he has the effrontery to refer directly to her disability and the recognition that here is a man who does not see her as the world does.
To get over the crudity of the subsequent taming, Petruchio plays up as a blithe Bohemian; even more stupendously outrageous than usual, he arrives for the wedding on stilts. His house, which resembles Jackson Pollock's studio, provides further evidence that Petruchio's wildness is the product of artistic temperament.
As he listens at the end to Kate's homily on wifely duty he has more the aspect of an attentive penitent than a triumphant chauvinist. McAuliffe's handling of this speech is marvellous: moving, touched with irony, suffused with knowingness, it convinces us, for the moment at least, that peace has come through mutual respect and love.
I wish that the absorbing psychological realism and superb central performances were given a comparably plausible setting. The basic circumstance in which the play is performed is a ship in port; this, and the subsequent extravagant variety of background and costume, is diverting and skilfully managed but adds surprisingly little.
Until 15 May; 0532-451295
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