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The evil that men do | Leah Whitaker

We chat to Leah Whitaker, who will be taking on the controversial role of Petruchio in The Globe’s all-female production of William Shakespeare’s problematic romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew, to be performed on tour from London as part of the Malta Arts Festival.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
2 July 2013, 12:00am
Leah Whitaker: “We don’t pastiche masculinity and have socks stuffed down our trousers.”
Leah Whitaker: “We don’t pastiche masculinity and have socks stuffed down our trousers.”


This is your Globe debut. How is this particular acting experience different to anything you've done before?

Hand on heart, performing at The Globe is like nothing else I've ever experienced. I love it. There's something amazing about the perspective: it's so vast and yet so intimate, you can chat to people at your feet, rail at the gods above you and everything in-between. To me it's the physical manifestation of the breadth of humanity, experience and emotion that Shakespeare's plays give us. Having so much freedom to communicate and talk directly to the audience also makes it weirdly easier; it's how the plays were written to be performed. It makes the work make sense.

Petruchio is arguably the villain of the piece, but also the source of some of the plays most memorable moments (not to mention humour). How did you go about balancing the different sides of his character?

It was important for me not to think of him as a villain. He isn't Machiavellian, he doesn't set out to destroy Kate. His actions - which are cruel and deplorable, yes - are borne of a desire to 'have' her. His is a very volatile and unpredictable humour, and I think he spends a lot of the play on a fault line. You laugh at him but sometimes I think it's a slightly nervous laughter: any time, he could lose it.

What was it like to be the male lead in an all-female production?

In our rehearsal process we really focused on character rather than gender. I can't shout louder than Kate or physically dominate her, we don't pastiche masculinity and have socks stuffed down our trousers, so my job really was to explore the differences between them that are behavioural, psychological and societal rather than what naturally derives from anatomy! I did work on my physicality - my 'man bounce' - and my spatial relationships, but it was important to me not to put anything on, almost not to make a big deal of the fact I'm playing a man.

With the above in mind, has the way you possess and present Petruchio changed throughout the course of rehearsal and performance?

Petruchio goes through massive shifts in the play and you see so many different sides to him. So my time has been spent piecing him together and, crucially, how he changes in relation to Kate. I played around with what is planned and what is reactive, to what extent he knows what he is doing and to what extent he questions and doubts himself. He has quite a few 'gong' moments in the play for me that point to a turmoil and a recognition that he's a bit messed up so I guess that's where I've been digging around.

Though the play certainly remains popular for its raucous humour, its ending remains controversial. Without giving away too much, how would you say this particular production deals with the infamous denouement?

The ending to this play is a problem, I really think that, and all productions have to navigate it. We've tried not to excuse or answer the text, but for my money it's a comedy with a tragic ending. I can't tell you how we do it but I can tell you it's powerful!

How would you say a touring production differs from the theatre proper? Where have you toured with the play so far, and are you looking forward to Malta?

With the touring shows you have the same wonderful relationship to the audience, but there's something extra special about watching Shakespeare outside, especially as the sun starts to come down. That's where something magic happens. And there's an honesty and a simplicity to the storytelling, and because we don't tour with a huge set everything we do is to let the language really sing. On our travels so far we've been to Portsmouth, Herstmonceaux Castle, Tring Park and Whitstable and are so thrilled to be coming to Malta! It's our first international date and our first time to Malta, so we can't wait to see what audiences make of it and fingers crossed find a bit of time to explore...

The Taming of the Shrew will be performed at Argotti Gardens, Floriana, on July 3 and 4, 21:00. Tickets at €25 (€20 concessions) can be purchased online from maltaartsfestival.org, Embassy Shopping Complex or at the door.
teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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