Interpretations of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew tend to fall in moiety, with some productions looking to present the leads as a well-matched if combative couple, while others are keener to probe the misogynistic and violent underpinnings to one of the bard's more "problematic" works.

Pamela Schermann's direction goes further than most, however, as she relocates her modern dress production to a brothel, with Baptista reimagined not as a mercenary father, but as an entirely practical madam (played with smooth professionalism by Alexa Brown). A heavy emphasis is put on the dowry pricings of the feisty Katherina (Carmina Kato) and the pliant Bianca (Alexa Hartley) as their "chattel" status is given due prominence: we first meet the pair as they totter on tall stools, in low cut dresses with angel wings, before narrow triptychs of mirrors. Subtlety is not the order of the day here - as the programme helpfully notes, the audience might want to draw parallels between 16th century wife-beating and today's flesh trade.

The production scores one palpable hit as a consequence of this interpretation, however. In the final scene we witness how Katherina's continuous humiliations at the hands of Petruchio (Benedict Salter, whose menacing and controlled performance stands out) have broken her resistance. The energy of Carmina Kato's earlier delivery is replaced by a nervous trembling quietism which is both shocking and heart-breaking.

Nevertheless, the relocation required to achieve this affect has a generally malign impact on the rest of the action. The subplot of lovers competing for Bianca's hand becomes unanchored. In the changed context their roles seem almost nonsensical. This may be responsible for acting which is intermittently flailing, determinedly broad and funny only on vanishingly rare occasions. Arguably this is appropriate to the overall thrust of the production, but with half the action given over to joyless clowning, its a long two hours.

The dress, props and range of accents are also disappointing – suggestive but without ever seeming localised, any sense the characters might have lives beyond the play is fatally undermined. Given the evident talent of the cast I couldn't help wishing for a plainer production.

In the final analysis this setting is more glib than enlightening; an idea that probably should have been thrown out with the envelope.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by William Shakespeare, at The Rose, BanksideJimmy Kelly reviews The Taming of the Shrew at the Rose Bankside.3