REVIEW: Taming Who?, Intermission Youth (Arcola Theatre)

Intermission Youth is an organisation that uses drama, film and whole-person support to help disadvantaged young people. Their flagship programme, Intermission Youth Theatre is a 10 month course for 16-25 year olds, culminating in an annual production. The programme has been running for 15 years, with many of its graduates going on to careers in the performing arts. To mark the anniversary, Intermission are running two shows in tandem at Arcola Theatre; the annual production from the 2023 cohort and a second, special production that brings together graduates from the programme. The latter,Taming Who? is a contemporary take on The Taming of the Shrew, which puts an Intermission twist one of the Bard’s most problematic plays.

Adapted by Intermission Youth’s Artistic Director, Darren Raymond Taming Who? reimagines the Shakespeare comedy in a modern day university, where Bianca (Ophelia J Wisdom) is amassing quite a collection of admirers; all that stands in their way is her feisty sister, Katherine (Sara Mokonen). Nobody has a chance of getting close to Bianca unless Kate can be distracted by a man of her own, but who on earth would be up for that challenge? Enter Petruchio (Keon Martial-Phillip), who is on a mission to find himself a wife or face being hauled home to Nigeria with his brother, Grumio (Tane Siah). With his mother (Morenike Onajobi) under the impression that her son is already married, Petruchio has just three days to find himself a wife. But can he possibly turn a woman he’s never into a dutiful, demure housewife fit to present to Mum?

Morenike Onajobi as Mum. Image credit: Lidia Crisafulli

It’s an amusing adaptation that brilliantly fuses the original text with modern parlance, including commentary on the evolution of language and the social value of code-switching. Although an excellent ensemble piece, there are some particularly entertaining performances from Onajobi as Mum and Tre Medley as Hortensio, both of whom have the audience in fits of laughter.

While the comedy works well, the production still doesn’t fully get to grips with the fundamental flaws with the source material. Although, as expected in a modern production, there is a slight twist to the ending, this doesn’t excuse what comes before it. Not only do you have to really suspend your disbelief around the speed at which the relationship develops, but Petruchio ultimately seems to get away with abusing Kate. The scenes depicting the coercive control are (deliberately) very uncomfortable, but the adaptation falls short of radically rewriting the ending to properly condemn Petruchio’s actions.

Ophelia J Wisdom as Bianca and Tre Medley as Hortensio. Image credit: Lidia Crisafulli

However, while the darker elements of the play could be harder hitting, the comedy is absolutely first rate and the contemporary setting works well. The traditional play within a play is lost in this production, with the sub-plot around Petruchio’s Mum providing a novel alternative framing device. This is very successful, creating another powerful female character and providing opportunities to integrate English-Nigerian perspectives.

Overall, Taming Who? is an entertaining adaptation of a famously flawed play, performed by an extremely talented cast. It’s a fitting tribute to the first 15 years of Intermission Youth Theatre. We look forward to seeing what lies in store over the next 15 years….

Taming Who? plays at Arcola Theatre from 30 November to 14 December 2023. We received a complimentary press ticket to the press performance on Friday 1 December.

Image credit: Lidia Crisafulli