Butterfly Theatre
Wheatsheaf Hotel
Until 17 Jan 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

Is there still a place in 2018 for a story about a shrew who must be tamed? Well, with director Megan Dansie and Butterfly Theatre’s sparklingly talented troupe of performers in charge, you can put your preconceptions and political correctness aside for an evening, all the better to just enjoy a rollicking comedy full of rich characterisation and unflagging energy.

Whatever unsavoury subtext may linger in the premise of Shakespeare’s play is pretty much not a problem in this fast-paced and smartly-edited version. With pub patrons providing an inevitable amount of background hum-and-buzz, the on-stage actors must strongly register, both physically and vocally, and this they easily manage for the most part; the ambience even makes one feel like this is how it could’ve been back at the Globe in the Bard’s day, which only adds to the sense of fun that this show radiates.

Gary George brings his reliably formidable stage presence to the principal role of Petruchio, and Georgia Stockham is a consummate Katharina, brimming with humour and vivacity, while conveying a character of multiple dimensions behind her seemingly impermeable defences. These two are a sublime double-act of antagonism/seduction.

Ellen Ferguson captures the childish charm of Bianca quite splendidly, while Peter Davies is spot-on as fairly hapless father Baptista. In the supporting roles of rival suitors, Matthew Chapman is charming in just the right way as Lucentio, and Dylan O’Donnell has especially strong elocution, which helps make his performance as Horatio a pleasure.

Brant Eustice is a delight as Grumio, playing a relatively rare comedic role, while Philip Lineton (the similarly-monikered Gremio) possesses a superb awareness of the power of body language and facial expression, as well as an ability to stretch a scene out in a most amusing way, though he risks losing audience engagement at times through low volume of delivery. Rebecca Kemp rounds out the cast capably in multiple small roles.

Costumes make an especially striking and effective contribution to this show; comic false moustaches do their job as well as they always have on stage, along with academic gowns, mortar-boards, and incongruous Hawaiian shirts! (Don’t forget the accordion.) The small and mostly-bare stage proves that set dressing and backdrops are unnecessary when the play, the performances, and the language deliver such dividends as they do here.

This reviewer is thrilled to be able to say that he honestly found this production more palatable and engaging than Franco Zeffirelli’s film version. It could be Butterfly’s best yet.