Friday 21 July 2017

I Am Katherine - Theatre Review

What: I Am Katherine
When 19 - 29 July 2017
Where: Hare Hole
Directed by: Renee Palmer
Performed by: Trudi Boatright, Sorcha Breen, Beth Liston and Adrienne Sloan
Costumes by: Adrienne Sloan
Technical design by: Darren Lever

Beth Liston, Sorcha Breen, Adrienne Sloan, and Trudi Boatwright
Billed as 'a feisty response to Shakespeare' I Am Katherine is certainly that and a whole lot more. Filled with more than a smattering of real life experiences, this show takes the experience of the famous shrew and puts them in the satirical light always intended rather than the misogynistic love story the patriarchy has always maintained it to be. I Am Katherine is playing at the Hare Hole until the end of July and I highly recommend you go although it will not be a comfortable and jolly time. You will laugh your socks off though!

I Am Katherine was first performed at The Owl and Cat Theatre in 2015 and now it is back just in time. There has been a lot of discussion about women and feminism over the last couple of years both nationally and now internationally. Women are finally speaking up, telling the truth rather than exhibiting a fantasy and demanding the space to be real and complete people. Joining the ranks of Finucane and Smith, Caroline Lee, and myself these women are crying out in pain loudly and fighting for the survival of the human race.

This show is a devised piece and has the episodic, picaresque structure usually found in work created this way. What makes it stand out from the crowd is the quirky 5 act parodic structure and masterful dramatic arc created by script editor Sorcha Breen and director Renee Palmer. Don't be afraid though. At only an hour, I am Katherine is not the epic tale of abuse Shakespeare created.

I believe Shakespeare was a feminist and this is evident by the female characters he has created across his body of work. Perhaps most obvious in the tragedies, in plays like The Taming Of The Shrew Shakespeare attempts satire but the English have never really managed to get their head around this form of edification and so it the play is usually presented as a comic love story so as not to offend the male establishment from whom all gifts of patronage are bestowed.

I Am Katherine peels away the need for societal approval and looks at the actual words written by Shakespeare illuminating the horror of social norms and the explicit call for the abuse and subjugation of women for the pleasure and ease of men. Palmer's voice rings out with quotes such as "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign..." but instead of framing them as comedy Breen, Adrienne Sloan, Beth Liston, and Trudi Boatwright hear them and experience them in earnest just as Katherine would have.

What is surprisingly effective in I Am Katherine is the fact that there are some absolutely outrageous moments of hilarity which leave you with the dilemma as to whether to laugh or cry. The great skill of the actors is in making it clear to the audience that both are fair and welcome.

Lady Winifred Charlotte Bothom (Liston) starts our journey by introducing us to her 16th century school of female etiquette. In a hooped skirt and tightly bound corset she attempts to get the help of her modern students in explaining the 3 main rules for women.  Her students are not perfect examples. The tales get more and more real although there is a slight detour via the mean girl Barbies which is a brilliant moment of direction by Palmer.

Palmer's direction is masterful in I Am Katherine. She has a strong affinity with physicality and uses the women's bodies to frame the work beautifully. This is helped by an ensemble of equal skill and talent giving I Am Katherine a true sense of ensemble and completeness. The ability to balance the polemic with the absurd is also mesmerising.

Perhaps the one thing which lets the show down is the costuming. I assume this show was made on a shoestring but a bit more focus on detail would have been good. Sloan  has some clever ideas but the sewing is poor and costume detail is already coming off and the show is only in it's second night. A quick sewing bee by the cast will solve some of these problems though.

I really do recommend I Am Katherine. It is a valuable contribution to the dialogue going on between the sexes on how to maintain a balance for the good of all and it a surprising bunch of fun. The night also allows us to really see and hear some of the points Shakespeare was making rather than clouding it in a fear of didactics and expository.

4 Stars

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