Back in the Saddle Again ! The old Gene Autry number heralds this rollicking re-working of Shakespeare. It's from Cut to the Chase, Hornchurch's blissfully talented resident repertory company of actor musicians.
But this is not really a musical in the sense that their 'Anything Goes' Twelfth Night was – the characters in the Shrew don't burst into song; instead, the old cowboy canon made famous by Autry and Roy Rogers – Silver Haired Daddy, Wedding Bells, Band of Gold - is used to comment on the action, and to give us in the audience a breather from the bard in broad American brogue. An evocative walking bass, a pair of coconut shells, and here they are, in eyepatch, false beard and Davey Crockett raccoon hat, with another fond memory of those days when men were men and women were grateful.
And that's an excellent reason for transplanting Padua to the Wild West. No-one expects these cowboys to espouse women's rights, so Kate's awkward submission is placed in a safe, familiar context.
It's enormous fun, too, of course, in Bob Carlton's inspired adaptation. We start in a local fleapit, with forthcoming attractions plus Pearl and Dean. Stock characters populate the little Texas town, with its Main Street lovingly recreated in Norman Coates's design. Biondello is a lazy Mexican, hilariously done by Greg Last, Jared Ashe's Gremio is the undertaker, Simon Jessop's Baptista is the bartender. Tom Jude's Tranio was a joy – back on the fiddle again – with an accent you could cut with a knife.
Queen's favourite Natasha Moore has two improbable roles: Hortensio's merry Widow [a burlesque dancer in this version] and a redskin Indian boy Grumio.
Elliot Harper, in a barnstorming and really quite Shakespearean performance, even in his pink combinations, makes the most of Petruchio, the loner who rides into town and tames Claire Storey's Calamity Kate; her demure sister Bianca was anything but bland in Sarah Scowen's attractive characterization.
The two hours fly by, with loads of inventive moments, from the arrival of the stage coach to the ride off into the sunset. I liked the nod to Blazing Saddles, the drunken bridegroom, the teepee honeymoon, the saloon bar crowd spilling out onto the verandah to watch the wooing.
“Willy the Kid” looking on from his Wanted poster on the jailhouse wall, is surely used by now to later hands “improving” his early comedy. There've been sequels, an opera, countless films both silent and musical, television from Heston to Cleese, and of course Kiss Me Kate. But this Spaghetti Western re-vamp is a witty, worthy addition to the list, and a pretty painless way into the world of Shakespeare. “Being a winner, God give you good night !”