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Edward Hall, currently the artistic director at this address, made his name with his all-male touring company Propeller.

 It’s still going strong under his command and is stopping off here briefly with revivals of a couple of Shakespeare’s comedies both of which have an underlying vein of darkness.

Most accessible – and, here, most brutal -  is their interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew – a no holds barred account of a man viciously determined to break the will of his chosen woman, Kate, and gain her fortune too. The fact that Kate is played by a man (Dan Wheeler stomping around angrily in Doc Martens and head to toe black) gives licence for far more extreme violence than is usual.

Vince Leigh’s swaggering Petruchio doesn’t just humiliate her by turning up bare-buttocked at their wedding, but, once married, tugs her by her white-blond hair and stamps on her hand. Yes, it’s amusing to see Bianca (fetching in a peach polka dot dress) played as a rather calculating coquette instead of the usual sweetly insipid foil to her older sister (her tutor brings The Joy of Sex  to their lessons together).

But seeing Kate broken and cowed into total submission still leaves a nasty taste even though the whole episode is presented as a drunken dream.Their Twelfth Night is a much more restrained affair - though there are bare bums to be seen here, too.  Designer Michael Pavelka’s wardrobes with their tarnished mirrors are now shrouded and masked characters oversee the proceedings.

But having a man playing a woman who disguises herself as a youth yields insufficient dividends – there’s nothing feminine about Joseph Chance’s shipwrecked Viola and little chemistry between him and the lovesick Duke Orsino.  

Consequently it’s Gary Shelford’s subtly scheming servant woman Maria who steals the show, a neat natural in heels with a nifty side-line in tap-dancing.

Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube | Swiss Cottage
Until 20th July
£22- £29 each
playhampsteadtheatre.com

 

Photo: Manuel Harlan


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The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night - theatre review: Propeller's performance of Shakespeare's classics comedies
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