Shakespearean stalwart Amanda Harris won the Best Performance in a Supporting Role Olivier Award in 2005 for her portrayal of Emilia, the wife of the evil Iago (played by Anthony Sher) and Desdemona’s maidservent in the 2004 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of OTHELLO, directed by Gregory Doran. After its initial staging in Stratford-upon-Avon, followed by a tour of Japan it returned to England and opened the larger of the two theatres at the Trafalgar Studios in London in June.
My wife and I were fortunate to see Amanda in the RSC’s staging of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at the Barbican Theatre in London in 2019 as part of our annual Shakespearean tradition to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The production switched the genders for every role with Amanda playing Minola Baptista, one of the wealthiest ‘men’ in Padua and ‘father’ of Kate, the ‘shrew’ of the play’s title and Bianca.
Her screen credentials include appearances in all the popular British TV programmes, including MIDSOMER MURDERS, THE BILL, A TOUCH OF FROST and HEARTBEAT. Amanda has taught drama and Shakespeare at the University of Alicante in Spain and is an Associate Artist at the RSC, where I sent this Emilia/Baptista sketch of her as for her to sign, which she kindly did and returned with a nice complementary note.
As per tradition and our annual November wedding anniversary ritual, my wife and attended a Shakespearean stage offering. This year the Royal Shakespeare Company have taken up residency at London’s Barbican Theatre over the festive season, with three plays: AS YOU LIKE IT, MEASURE FOR MEASURE and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, being performed in repertory. We chose the latter (because it was on the actual day of our anniversary).
Justin Audibert’s gender-flipped “landmark production” (Evening Standard) is a radical take on the Bards fierce and energetic comedy of gender, where 1590 Padua is reimagined as a matriarchal society with women in charge. Wealthy Bautista Minola is seeking to marry off her two sons, the sweet-tempered Bianco and the rebellious Katherine. Enter Claire Price as Petruchio. She’s after money and taming the headstrong Katherine (Joseph Arkley) is her spousal target. Yes, a women called Petruchio mistreating a man called Katherine. “Price is hugely watchable with a pleasingly dotty Queenie-from-Blackadder sort of vibe,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review.
Claire kindly signed this Petruchio sketch, which I left at the Barbican stage door.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is Shakespeare’s most outrageous comedy. One of theatre’s great screwball double-acts with a couple hell-bent on confusing and out-witting each other. First performed in London in the 1590’s, it was farcical and probably hilarious to Elizabethans, but it’s message of ‘taming’ a woman with a fiery personality and making her subservient to her husband does not always sit well with modern audiences.
Toby Frow’s production for The Globe in the summer of 2012 featured double-Olivier Award-winning actress Samantha Spiro as Katherina and Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio. It Included the ‘induction’ by the character, Christopher Sly who takes to the stage as Petruchio, so the ‘play-within-a-play’ is more a fantasy, wishful thinking rather than reality, tempering the misogynistic theme. The Guardian’s Michael Billington wrote as “both actors go at it hammer and tongs” throughout the entire play that this is a “…knockout Shrew that doesn’t go in for much psychological depth and presents Katherina’s final speech of submission without irony.”
Jane Shilling in The Telegraph describes Samantha’s Kath as “a compact, muscular spitfire whose gentlewoman’s education has evidently included self-defence classes”, as she drops her suitor to the ground on their first encounter.
I ‘drew the Shrew’ with this in mind, but never got it signed… until… as per chance, both actors were on the London stage over this Christmas period past But alas, not on the same stage. Samantha was in A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Noel Coward and Simon in THE LORAX across the Thames at the Old Vic. Still that’s why there’s seven days and nights in a week and it took two of them to complete the mission.
I was very pleased to hear that Olivier and Tony Award winner Janet McTeer has returned to the London stage and is in currently appearing in LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES at the Donmar Warehouse. Not only is it a chance to see this wonderful British actress perform, but an opportunity to meet her and, naturally the possibility of having a sketch or two signed crossed my mind ( and yes, before you think it… not a long journey). This particular drawing is based on her role in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at the Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003. She played Petruchio, a young man, intent on taming the ‘shrew’. Blurring the fringes between genders has been a rewarding theme in Janet’s career. Her Oscar-nominated role as Hubert Page in ALBERT HOBBS is another recent example. Actually I read that after hearing of her nod for that role, she and her husband had a low-key celebration, drank some champagne, ate cheesecake and watched DOWNTON ABBEY. “It doesn’t get better than that”, she said. With that type of down-to-earth philosophy I thought she wouldn’t mind signing my sketch. I was right.