The complete reversal of roles on gender lines that characterises the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of The Taming of the Shrew, while commendable in supplying more work for women, does nothing to alleviate the nastiness at the core of this troublesome play.

This is the Shakespeare comedy whose principal plot – a brutal exercise in bullying power within a marriage – no longer seems in any sense funny (if it ever did).

This remains the case even when the bully in question is the wife not the husband. We are no more comfortable watching a woman inflicting physical and mental abuse – or oughtn’t to be.

With characteristic canniness Shakespeare thoughtfully provided amelioration in a framing device that turns the whole drama into the imaginings of a sottish tinker, Christopher Sly. This has the effect of placing inverted commas around the action, showing its removal from reality.

Unwisely, perhaps, director Justin Audibert has excised Sly in this production, so this get-out is gone.

A definite peculiarity of the drama we watch is the strange submissiveness of Joseph Arkley’s Katherine (the character maintains a female name) in the face of the abuse inflicted by his wife. No termagant he, or its male equivalent, you sense quite early on that he’s almost a willing victim.

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Claire Price’s Petruchia – this name is changed to a female form – swaggers and struts as she administers such limited taming as is required. No so much, you might think, as might be sensibly applied to her astonishing, skyward-projecting hairstyle.

In a good-looking production packed with comedy, much is found in the pair of women – Lucentia (Emily Johnstone) and Gremia (Sophie Stanton) – vying for the hand of Katherine’s winsome brother Bianco (James Cooney). There’s fine work, too, from Laura Elsworthy as the scheming servant Trania.

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