We’ve been privileged to see Shakespeare with the Red Rose Chain several times previously, including King Lear and Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was thrilled to be able to attend the press night for this year’s performance of Taming of the Shrew.
Theatre with small children sounds like a kind of intimidating idea. Red Rose Chain makes it accessible, interactive, interesting, and a wonderful way to introduce Shakespeare without it being scary or seeming educational at all. There is always something for everyone in their plays, and this year is no exception. From rollicking songs, fascinating costumes (!), and miniature cars with puppets, you will not regret taking your children to this. Unless they suddenly discover they like the colour purple
First though, the new venue. Jimmy’s Farm is much more accessible I suspect for most people, being situated not far off the A14 near Ipswich. They’ve set up a campsite for people who want to overnight – that didn’t look anywhere near as nice as the forest campsite at Rendlesham where we’ve camped previously, but it’s got all the facilities you need for an overnighter. Drawback is that it’s caravan club members only, not quite sure what the cost of membership is though. There’s no charge for parking, which is another bonus, and the night we were there, the bar was open beforehand. They are doing picnic hampers, and I would expect those to be a real treat if the canapes on offer to the press were anything to go by. Alternatively, you could have a slap up meal before the performance, again, a way to make it a seriously luxurious night out.
The actual theatre bit of the venue is in a little bit of forest slightly away from the main bit of the farm. It’s down a hill and up a hill through woodland, and I’d strongly advise against a buggy – I’d taken one thinking Tigerboy might nap during the performance, but it was very hard work wheeling it up the track. The seating area and stage seem smaller than the previous one, which I’d count as a positive, as it changed the experience of the play for the better, something I hadn’t realised was possible.
Red Rose Chain always break the fourth wall during their performance, and this is no exception. Actually, I’m not sure you could say there was a fourth wall at all really – actors come and go through the seating area, interact with the audience, and there’s a really intimate feel to the whole proceedings. It draws you in, makes you a part of it all, no chance of being the slightest bit bored or detached. The performance starts with a rollicking song and then a sort of flashback – so you begin near the end, which is a slightly confusing device if you know the play, but worked well for my kids. Then the action is fast and furious, with all sorts of unexpected happenings – slapstick comedy, music, costume changes that will raise the eyebrows, I promise.
Taming of the Shrew is on some levels a slightly uncomfortable play in the exploration of roles of men and women in relationships. Most of this went over my children’s heads, unsurprisingly, but it did mean we could talk about those issues later, never a bad thing. Shakespeare is a part of our national heritage, and Red Rose Chain is doing fantastic work in reinterpreting it in ways that bring it to life for new audiences, young and old. If you can get to a performance in the next few weeks, do. You won’t regret it.