Taming Who? is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew set in the present day. Following the death of his father, Petruchio's Mum wants him to leave England and come back to her, so he claims he's married in order to stay, at which point she declares she'll be coming to visit and meet his wife in just 3 days. Knowing he won't be able to lie to his mother, Petruchio sets out to find a wife, but it seems his only option is the stubborn and outspoken Kate. Petruchio tries to “tame” Kate so she'll get his mother's approval while others try to woo Kate's sister Bianca, and chaos ensues. 


The script is excellent, seamlessly embedding Shakespeare's original text with contemporary writing – the notion that language continues to evolve and be used as powerful self-expression is not lost on us. The audience are in fits of laughter throughout, largely due to the brilliant comedy of the script and the company's understanding of it. The play explores many interesting themes, including cultural identity, family dynamics, masculinity and, of course, abusive relationships. 


The energy of this cast is truly formidable - from the opening scene, we are swept up in the world and the infectious joy that pervades most of this piece. In the group is a range of talent, and we warm to each of them throughout, with some clear stand-outs: Keon Martial-Phillip is a fantastic Petruchio, shifting from suave Cassanova to sinister gas-lighter with chilling potency; Tré Medley is absolutely hysterical as Hortensio, mastering comic timing, physical comedy, and the ability to be constantly doing something wonderful in the background without ever taking away from the main scene; Chadrack Mbuini stands out for his grasp of the Shakespearean language and general eloquence, as well as his ability to perform a moment of heartbreak that will break yours; and the star of the show is Morenike Onajobi who bookends the play as Mum – Onajobi brings fun, intensity, and familial warmth that is impossible not to love. 

Where this production falls short is its handling of the challenging plot point which is the shrew's taming and the play's conclusion. When Petruchio first begins to darkly bend Kate to his will through a series of abhorrent psychological abuse, it comes as a jarring surprise due to Martial-Phillip's such charming characterisation beforehand; while this would work as a brilliant twist in television, due to the fast pace of this play we need to see a hint of that malevolence from the very beginning.  


There does not appear to be any sense of knowing irony in Kate's response to her torture (strangely undermined by Grumio's food comedy), and the scenes we see present Petruchio's actions as nothing short of persistent emotional abuse. Aside from one line that suggests Petruchio is developing actual feelings for Kate, no genuine love story is built between them, so while Kate delivers a beautifully cutting final monologue layered with depth, the fact that the pair end up together happily feels at best unsatisfactory and at worst deeply uncomfortable. It is clear the company have tried to remedy this by adding a final scene where Kate puts her foot down (literally) and insists this will never happen again, but this feels like far too little too late and possibly even borders on shifting the abusive dynamic the other way – potentially an interesting twist, but one that would need to be better explored.  


What cannot be overstated is the impact and importance of Intermission Youth Theatre and the talent and potential of all the young people involved. Bringing Shakespeare's wisdom and genius into the modern age creates inherently powerful art, not to mention the lives that are inspired and changed as a result of the programme.  


Taming Who? runs at the Arcola until 14th December.  



Review: Penny Lane         Photos: Lidia Crisafulli