Thursday, 21 June 2012

Cygnet Company presents The Taming of the Shrew … as you’ve never seen before

Working through the Fringe's programme can be dispiriting: not due to the paucity of performances, but the sheer impossibility of finding out which shows have an edge. When it comes to Shakespeare, I'm always looking for the new angle: when I came across Cygnet Company, I noticed that they were coming from  the south-west (which always wins my Wessex loyalty), had gender-reversed The Taming of the Shrew and had persuaded ManKind Initiative to support their production.

Sorrell Meechan, an actor with the company, explains how this Shrew will be different. "Shakespeare's plays are often performed and often loved, however we are using a reverse gendered cast and a modern setting, using the original Shakespearean text (albeit greatly abridged) to look at the domestic abuse and oppression of men, in a society with a growing female dominance." 

While I can't agree that the society I seem to inhabit has anything like growing female dominance - the briefest analysis of advertising on television reveals that the patriarchy is in full effect, Cygnet have found the only way that makes another production of Shakespeare bearable - the radical remix. Furthermore, Shrew, if produced according to the original casting and played straight, is little more than a hymn to domestic abuse.

But Cygnet have recognised that theatre is not just about the stage. As Meechan points out, "the production has been a great success in Exeter, with most audiences staying rooted to their seats at the end, discussing the interpretation that we have presented to them. " This interested Mankind Initiative, a national charity that provides help and support for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. 

The interpretation came from a casual conversation. "Our concept for the reverse-gendered cast and dark take on this usual comedy, came out of a night in the pub, a bottle of wine, and some good creative chat amongst friends - aren't most good ideas born in this way?" laughs Meechan. Then the hard work began. "In most years Cygnet has  taken shows to the Fringe: however this year the funding wasn't available, the students therefore took it upon themselves to raise the funds, choose and direct the show and take an entirely student-led production to the Fringe. We have been busily beavering away, standing in the rain at 6am in a charity car park, and, more glamourously, putting on shows with monologues and songs and auctions, all to raise money to bring the show to Edinburgh, so we can participate in the biggest performance festival in the UK." 

Although the script may be old, the inspirations are not.  Meechan continues "Our Director Louisa Wilde is mainly influenced by the theatre director Rupert Goode for his ability to add extra depth and inject new life into classical texts. Our Petruchio is inspired by Sell A Door Theatre Company, for their multi-dimensional characters and the world that they create and take you into."

And while the Fringe may often be a low budget delight, Cygnet have got an expanded cast. "With thirteen members of the cast and crew," Meechan boasts, "we have a number of influences between us which combine to produce a multi-layered production."

Shakespeare's usual length presented a further problem - in addition defining English theatre as based in the script, he likes the extended meditation over the brevity demanded by the Fringe's busy schedule. "Our Director then spent hours upon hours editing the text, cutting a long play down to an hour was no mean feat, Meechan remembers. "Teaching all the girls to walk in heels however, well that was like climbing Mount Everest."


13th-24th August (not 18th)

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