Q&A with The Taming of the Shrew Director Justin Audibert

  • The Taming of The Shrew 2019

Director Justin Audibert turns Shakespeare’s fierce comedy of gender, The Taming of the Shrew, on its head in a new version at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where women hold all the power.

How did you come up with this idea?

I was very inspired by the novel, The Power by Naomi Alderman, where women become the dominant gender. At the moment there is an important conversation about gender and power and where that lies, and whenever you make a play, you’re always influenced by what’s going on around you. I’m interested in seeing what happens when you get female actors to play traditionally powerful male roles, and vice versa. During rehearsals it’s been fascinating to see how things feel when, for example, a mother sells off her two sons, as opposed to in the traditional retelling when a father sells off his two daughters. We are somehow not shocked by the traditional version but when we see a mother selling her sons off that feels transgressive. I wanted to see what it would feel like when the male voice is not the dominant one.

Can you tell us more about the setting for the play?

I’m setting it in a reimagined 1590 in which England is a matriarchy. In the rehearsal room we’ve been exploring the different ways that women in a matriarchy would assert power.

In Elizabethan England, eye contact was a huge thing. Women weren’t supposed to look you directly in the eye – but in the world we’re creating in the play the female actors are looking people directly in the eyes in a very bold way, and the male actors are not. Similarly, we’ve looked very carefully at how characters greet each other, how the women take the men’s hands, and kiss them and how that reads to a contemporary eye.

Another thing we are exploring is how in most of Shakespeare’s plays, female virginity is prized above anything else, but it’s fascinating to see how that feels when it effectively becomes male virginity that is prized.   

Can you tell us more about the set, music and costumes?

The setting has a strong feel of the Mediterranean about it, with a colour palette that is warm, vibrant and with a sense of fun and mischief.

The costumes worn by the female actors will be beautiful, imposing, expensive and involve lots of material. They will dominate the space. The costumes the male actors wear will be much more delicate even subtle.

There will be a strong baroque feel to the music. As the play goes on the music will change and become louder, more electric. I want strings with a big beat behind them, sort of like the Eurythmics, so the music will progressively have a strong 80s feel to it. We are calling it Rock Renaissance in the rehearsal room.

What do you think Shakespeare would think of your idea?

I’m going to imagine he’s in literary heaven, and he’s seeing what’s happened on earth for the last 400 years. He’s a person of the theatre, someone who was into experimenting. I think he’d probably be quite up for it!

The Taming of the Shrew plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 8 March – 31 August. For more information, visit www.rsc.org.uk