Edward Hall has brought his Propeller company's productions to the Old Vic.
The Taming the the Shrew and Twelfth Night are full of energy and colour. This is vital for there is much to live up to since the programme reminds us that 90 years ago Sybil Thorndike played Katherine in the Taming of the Shrew and Viola in Twelfth Night. Edith Evans and Cathleen Nesbitt have also portrayed Katherine on the same stage.
Propeller is, according to its founder Edward Hall, an accidental company. But its stength is that many of the actors have worked together for so long that they work well together. Some are real musicians who play instruments on stage and sing.
The Taming the the Shrew is Shakespeare's first battle of the sexes play but Edward Hall keeps his cast male. He also keeps to tradition when allowing his players to mingle with the audience as it settles down. Since the costumes are at least 20th-century, although maybe not 21st-century, this works as well as at the original Globe.
The dress soon becomes brighter which is important since the ingenious mobile cupboards and chests which make up Michel Pavelka's set are grey. Against this deliberately drab background, Hall offers a far from traditional interpretation. Indeed the text editor Robert Warren appears to have been given plenty of scope.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is an intimidating and bullying Petruchio. Simon Scardifield is modern tomboy Katharine slowly reduced to a wimpering and cowed battered wife. Both actors produce a powerful tension by their careful timing.
Twelfth Night is a play to be seen at this time of the year. It was premiered in 1602 at Candlemas having just missed being Elizabeth I's 6 January entertainment. The indoor February performance was within a mile of the Old Vic and today the references to St Benet's opposite Bankside and the Elephant bring a local touch to Illyria. If the much mentioned 'Elephant' is not the Elephant & Castle it's certainly product placement for Bankside's Elephant inn.
Jon Trenchard's charming holy priest appears briefly in both productions poised for a wedding but thanks to great versitility one is not tempted to constantly compare actors' roles. Impressive Trenchard is in fact also two females: the Shrew's Bianca and Twelfth Night's Curio.
Rob Barrett's performances, like his costumes, become more outrageous as he moves from Baptista to Malvolio where he ends looking and even sounding like an Old Father Thames.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is again a star as he turns from macho Petruchio to play Olivia like a camp nightclub hostess. Simon Scardifield transforms himself into a nimble champagne party going Sir Andrew Agucheek.
Propeller is adding an important chapter to the long history of the Old Vic which deserves another box office success.