DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – The Taming of the Shrew/A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“When you speak, it sounds like poetry”

The second disc of ShakespeaRe-Told (first disc reviewed here) features reworkings of The Taming of the Shrew by Sally Wainwright and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Peter Bowker. Shrew is a problematic play at the best of times and I have to say that I found this interpretation to be very difficult. Katherine becomes an abrasive politician aiming to become Leader of the Opposition who is advised to get married for her image, Petruchio is a foppish aristocrat who has fallen on hard times and is attracted by her wealth. They meet, sparks fly and thus do battle whilst conducting their relationship. Initially it works, as he is just as mad as her – almost cartoonish in how mental they are – but the ‘taming’ that ensues only applies to her and so the unease feeling of misogyny is always too present. Shirley Henderson gives shrewish life to Katherine (sorry) and Rufus Sewell swaggers well as the cross-dressing Petruchio, but it never really flies as a revision.

The subplot involves her supermodel sister Bianca – Jaime Murray as she bats away the affections of her manager for the seductive allure of a Spanish stranger Lucentio. I have to say that Santiago Cabrera looks pretty much like perfection here, the sexiest glasses-wearer ever, and so is forgiven for the underwhelming way in which this subplot works. Stephen Tompkinson’s manager is oddly fobbed off with the mother – Twiggy of all people – but it does lead up to a nifty conclusion in which Katherine’s hard-to-swallow speech ends up being about prenuptial agreements. David Mitchell is also featured in this as Katherine’s aide, demonstrating just how little range the man has.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a much more successful adaptation, it is one of my favourite Shakespeares in any case, but there’s also a sense of little messing around with the story from Bowker. Relocated to a Butlins-style resort in a forest, the great and good have gathered to celebrate the engagement of Hermia and James, which is interrupted by the arrival of her real love Xander to the shock of her parents Theo and Polly; the Rude Mechanicals become a group of security guards hoping to get onto the holiday rep entertainment team; and the fairies, well they remain the fairies of old who are determined to ensure everyone gets their happy ending.

The story plays out pretty much as one would expect, but Theo and Polly’s relationship woes are featured much more heavily – he’s an irritable sod and she’s pretty much had enough – which offers another layer into the story which works quite neatly, allowing Theo and Oberon to have a couple of nice scenes together discussing love and marriage and wives: Bill Paterson being ace as ever as the former, having forgotten how to treat Imelda Staunton’s Polly with the love and respect she deserves. The fairies are good fun too, with Dean Lennox Kelly as a Manc wideboy, relishing the dry breaking of the fourth wall with a quirky charm, and Lennie James and Sharon Small facing off well as the warring Oberon and Titania.

The young lovers and Rude Mechanicals suffer the most in the compression for the TV. Zoë Tapper and Michelle Bonnard, and William Ash and Rupert Evans, all come across as a bit wet and drippy and there’s not enough of their (what should be) hilarious squabbling in the woods, to create the real interest in the characters. And the Mechanicals have very little screen time, Pyramus and Thisbe is sadly lost to magic tricks and comedy routines, so their impact was rather limited: Johnny Vegas made a tragic but amusing Nick Bottom though.

Altogether, I still rather enjoyed this, stuffed full of witty little touches – the menus at the Globe restaurant, the plates of Ferrero Rocher – and an affection for the play that reflects my own opinion of it. And as I very much appreciated three out of the four adaptations, I would say that ShakespeaRe-Told is probably worth the investment (especially from a charity shop!) to take in something a bit different.

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