Review: The Taming of the Shrew at Norwich Shakespeare Festival

In the hours before the The Taming of the Shrew began I was monitoring the heavy rain and irregular bursts of sun, hoping the latter would become more regular and I would have the picturesque evening I had hoped for in the cathedral cloisters.

And as someone who, it seems, has been asleep in a cave for the past four years, I have only just caught on to the Shakespeare Festival's arrival in Norwich for the fourth year running – and what a treat it was.

As a fan of outdoor theatre already, my hopes for the evening were already high.

But the GB Theatre Company's Taming of the Shrew did little to disappoint – and it stayed dry.

Shakespeare's most outrageous, and controversial comedy was dynamic, funny and engaging.

Directed by Jenny Stephens, director of BBC Radio 4's The Archers, the actors and the historic backdrop had the audience bewitched and laughing all the way through.

The stage hosts the story of two wealthy, but very different, sisters –who must wed.

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The wet and meek Bianca, played perfectly by the small and sweet Sarah Middleton, is the modest and comparatively shy sister who has a wealth of choice for suitors.

But Katherina, played by Lucia McAnespie, is her shrewish and ungovernable sister with fewer men to choose from.

Just Petruchio, played by David Davies – a strong-willed and maddening man who is able to charm, or rather bully, Katherina into loving him.

Shakespeare's script is executed perfectly with the erratic Katherina and Petruchio outwitting each other.

Tom Kay, the pompous Hortensio Padua, who wishes to marry Bianca, was certainly a highlight of the performance.

His flamboyant and almost camp take on Hortensio was both funny and hugely watchable.

To the modern mind, the Taming of the Shrew is backwards. The plot begins doused in feminism and independence, with Katherina as strong-willed and strong-minded woman. But by the end she is submissive and obedient, preaching to other women to bow down their husbands – something that doesn't quite fit into the modern mentality.

The cast, music and setting married into an excellent trio – and with Desmond Barrit, actor and patron of the Shakespeare Festival pulled on to the stage unexpectedly – it felt all the more charming and tailored to the Norwich audience.

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