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December 5th 2013

Pretty Shrewd? Bloody Clever!

Clive Duncan’s latest play, loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, was given a vibrant, winning performance on Thursday Dec 5 2013 in the Kongress Haus Innsbruck.
This witty and cleverly scripted play – ‘such a sharp wit. Don’t cut yourself with it…’ - resonates, especially with 17-year-olds, largely due to the youthful themes and the authentic teenager idiom. ‘Who needs a fridge when you’re around?’: really cool.
The categorical, opinionated and dominant Pete (with sharply pointed gesturing from Joseph Tweedale) is challenged by ‘Miss Smartarse’ (as he labels her), the self-confident, provocative, verbally sharp and strategically flirtatious Kate (played with great verve by Eloise Kay).
Her 4-stage strategy for undoing a conceited ‘male chauvinist pig’ (was the phrase deleted from this particular performance?) is instructive: first, confuse him, then surprise him, next calm and relax him, and finally – once he’s feeling secure? Squash him flat!
The play’s structure follows this sequence. But this traditional tale has a novel twist in its tail: Does love really win out after a bumpy ride?
Long-suffering, but patient and resilient Luke (Davey Simmons, with an impressive range of moods and styles) conspires to love Bianca (a perky, vivacious Catriona Mackenzie) behind the back of Pete , her elder over-protective brother.
All four actors are marvellously versatile, slipping easily across varied tones of voice. This works especially effectively later in the play when they quote each other’s lines (‘slag, slut, slapper’ and ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’), to ironic effect. This contributed immensely to the rhythmic variety and subtle pacing of the production, punctuated in turn by songs that partly reflect the action. The Stones’ Ruby Tuesday forms a key change from Kate and Pete’s running enmity to an emerging relationship. All four are persuasive singers. We were given a really stylish rendering of Regina Spektor’s How can I forget your love? This was capped by Luke’s brilliant solo.
Arguably, the ‘Mrs McCann’ episode (Luke in disguise) is somewhat forced, being played largely for comic effect, even as burlesque farce.
The stage-set is really flexible and resourceful: Pete’s Café is backed by 1950s/60s iconic images (James Dean, Route 66, VW Bus, MM with billowing white dress). Placards are hung up to indicate scene switches (toilets en route to Birmingham, the hamburger sign). Minimal staging, then, but maximum effect.
We, the audience, were pulled into the performance during the semi-finals and final of the UK Folk Fest Competition 2013. A potential sing-along.
Overall, this wonderful show is a real winner. A must-see.

Andrew Milne-Skinner

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