I mentioned a while back that I had stumbled across an old 1980 Beeb production of The Taming of the Shrew starring, of all people, John Cleese as Petruchio, and that, as it is Netflix-available, I popped it in the queue.

Well, I’ve had a chance to watch it now and it turns out to be really quite a good staging.  Indeed, the Shakespeare series that the Beeb did back then was a distinctly hit-or-miss biznay, but this was definitely one of the better if not best that I can recall off the top of my head.  (The worst one I can think of was The Tempest.  Despite the fact that poor old Michael Hordern did a pretty good job as Prospero, the director got the idea  to cast brother and sister actors as Ferdinand and Miranda, thus spiking the ick-factor to toxic levels.)

So how is Cleese?  Well, despite the fact that he throws in some looks and gestures recognizable from both Python and Fawlty Towers from time to time, I definitely think he fit the bill.  His Petruchio has a commanding, swaggering presence, with a bold eccentricity underscored by a latent ferocity:  Your first reaction is to think that here’s a man one doesn’t want to cross.  Your second is to think that if anyone can take down the headstrong Kate, it is he.

Katherine is played by somebody named Sarah Badel, of whom I’ve never heard.  All in all, I don’t think her character has all that much to do other than glaring and screeching at people and slamming doors, but she does this quite authentically, as I can attest from life at Port Swiller Manor.  And when her father Baptista started laughing and dancing a little jig at the thought of finally getting her off his hands, I had to laugh, too.

The rest of the cast seemed perfectly good and solid to me, as well.  Much of the blocking involved various characters huddled together in closeups of twos or threes and you really got the sense of a bunch of Renaissance Italian horse-traders dealing and plotting.  This blocking was set off very nicely by the set, which was fairly minimal and reminded me in its geometry of paintings by Vermeer and that lot.

Anyhoo, if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you might like to nip on over to Netflix and check it out.

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