The Taming of the Shrew Touring production by the Orange Tree Theatre, until December 7.
Taming Shakespeare for re-luctant 12-year-olds is the task of this one-hour version. This Shrew keeps faith with the spirit of the play, while dispensing with large chunks of sub-plot. This clever adaptation has four excellent actors - two men and two women - taking on nine roles. The stage is a big rectangle of rubber matting, the costumes and props simple.
Director James Brining has cast the piece well. In Julia Stubbs he has a marvellously wild, angry and yet appealing Kate, striding about in a square cage. She is dark and manic and her almost perpetual motion contrasts beautifully with the demure stillness of the blonde, sweet, Bianca (Annie Carpenter). The production plays up the theme of sibling rivalry, and there were gasps when Kate bound her sister, pulled her hair and smacked her noisily across the face.
The theme of gender roles was also emphasised, but while Kate and Bianca showed two distinct ways of being a woman, this version stepped around Shakepeare's view that shrewish wives must be tamed, and opted for something more contemporary.
Kate's "I will be free" is the keynote, but she also learns to give and take from Petruchio. Their final long-delayed kiss was greeted with a crescendo of "oohs" and "aahs" which almost became a cheer.
The men in the company have a harder time than the women. Simon Bridge plays Bianca's querulous father and her rather wet suitor, Hortensio. He does both admirably and is to some extent the master of ceremonies as well, skilfully drawing in the audience right from the start. Gavin Miller's Petruchio is a lively match for his Kate and good at the horseplay - the audience loved the way he wrapped the kicking Kate in a large mat and sat on her.
The children had a good time, enjoyed the broad characterisation, and the infectious energy of the production. They bid enthusiastically for Bianca when she was auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Details of London tour: 0181 940 0141.