Old Fire Station Blog

News, happenings and goings on from the Old Fire Station, Oxford

Interview: Emma Leigh, Artistic Director behind MadCap Theatre’s The Taming of the Shrew

We had a last minute chat with Emma Leigh, Artistic Director at MadCap Theatre, the company behind our upcoming show, The Taming of the Shrew. She shares why MadCaps picked the Taming of the Shrew, shares her thoughts on the original text and tells us how the company includes people trained in stage combat, musicians, horse riders and stand up comedians…

What attracted you as Artistic Director, and the company as a whole, to The Taming of the Shrew?

Taming of the Shrew has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays (even when I hated Shakespeare at school!) so it has been a dream come true to tour with it and put a ‘MadCaps’ stamp on it.
For me also, I feel that too many productions recently have lost the humour of the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio and have focused on the misogyny, repression and in some cases physical abuse. We ultimately wanted to rectify that as while Petruchio comes across as a bully, modern audiences rarely realise that Katherina always gives as good as she gets, and they actually leave the play as equals.
For the company, The Taming of the Shrew lends itself to the way MadCaps approach classical texts. The way we approach Shakespeare comedies is almost pantomimic, the majority of Shakespeare’s characters are hugely over the top, flamboyant and the text, and the meaning behindit, can be easily lost if the characters are not performed as ‘big’ as they should be. At MadCap we bring out the flamboyance of the characters but also the real emotions behind their actions.

Are comedic plays something MadCap is particularly interested in? Does a bit of witty banter always have a place within the company?

MadCaps, while occasionally dipping our toes into more ‘serious’ drama, are first and foremost a company that produces comedies. The way we work (gathering up ten or less ridiculously creative people and forcing them to live together for however many weeks and weekends) means that we do have an undeniable chemistry and humour is the source of that. So by doing a comedy, we are constantly laughing and enjoying ourselves! We have a very strong work ethic as a company, but we are fortunate to (in our opinion) do one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world, and if we aren’t enjoying rehearsals we are doing something very wrong!
We begin rehearsals by trying to embarrass people as much as possible during warm-ups; while that sounds mean, we have to get over our physical and mental blocks in front of  each other quickly, so we start rehearsals as ‘equals’ and always remain so. If you are interested in that side of things and manage to track me down in the foyer on Friday or Saturday, I’ll explain what a ‘Moo Off’ is…

MadCap Theatre Productions version of The Taming of the Shrew contains a lot of physical theatre and we hear that some of the performers are trained in stage combat. Do you think this add to the performance?

MadCaps always try to form a company of actor’s that are multi-talented, as we believe it means our cast is constantly bringing fresh and exciting idea’s to the table. While we class our story-telling as physical theatre, it is not completely in the ‘traditional’ sense; Shakespeare is 50% words and 50% gesticulation and facial expressions and our cast are constantly moving and expressing the text physically. We are also extremely fortunate to have a lot of strong dancers (and a choreographer) on board.
Having people trained in stage combat helps us a huge amount! We’re not only able to keep each other safe, but also create great combat scene from all angles and come with fresh ideas and techniques.
But stage combat is not one of our company’s only attributes! We also have people in the cast who are fantastic musicians, singers, stand-up comics, horse riders and more – our casting is always eclectic and varied to say the lease!

And finally, traditional Shakespeare with the original text or an adaptation in a different era?

That’s a tough one, because I believe there is space for both; while we tend to steer towards traditional dress and text, I have seen numerous productions and films based on Shakespeare’s works set in different times and with or without the original text, that have worked really well (and, granted, some that have not).
I think once a person understands the story of the play they are seeing, Shakespeare’s language instantly becomes more understandable- and the more you are exposed to it, the easier it becomes. Being a fan I adore the poetry and imagery of the text, and think that done properly, you should not need to update the language.
We stage Shakespeare traditionally because, surprisingly and strangely, it makes us different! We use the odd reference to modern times and you can see a lot of ‘modernisms’ in our characters, but for the most part we stick to the original text.
However, the fact that modern versions do so well is proof that Shakespeare remains as important and relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago. It also demonstrates just how good the stories and characters are that he created; I mean, after all- who doesn’t love the film ’10 Things I Hate About You’? and The Lion King is really only Hamlet with animals!

The Taming of the Shrew is this Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd June, 7.30pm

Ticket are available from Tickets Oxford Online, via the phone (01865 305305), or are available to purchase on the night.

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