It turns out that Samantha Spiro was just limbering up when she played ferocious Filumena at the Almeida Theatre recently. This time, as Shakespeare’s most reluctant bride, Spiro is positively murderous.
The parallels between Eduardo De Filippo’s heroine (written in 1946) and Shakespeare’s “shrew” are as interesting as the differences. One lives in Naples, the other in Padua and both have to contend with the chauvinism of (Italian) men.
But whereas Filumena’s objective is to marry, and make legitimate her three bastard sons, Katherina wants nothing of the institution, which is why, in order to win her hand and her father’s dowry, Petruchio has to starve, bully and even beat her into submission.
For modern directors, the misogyny is every bit as problematic as the antisemitism in The Merchant of Venice, and Toby Frow goes a long way towards solving it by packing his production with even more visual gags than there are verbal insults in Shakespeare’s comedy.
Spiro, who just gets better with every role, finds a kind of dignity as the serial abuse is meted out to her Katherina, while Simon Paisley Day’s Petruchio transmits a tenderness towards his spouse when he is not busy tormenting her.
And so, despite the play’s unambiguously wrong-headed message (what was Shakespeare thinking?), Spiro and Day find something loving for the heart to swoon over even though the head wants to call social services.