Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Minna Gillett, Putting a New Spin on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ with Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company in 2024

Minna Gillett tells us she first knew The Taming of the Shrew as ‘that very sexist play’ – so how come she’s directing a version of it with Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company? We sat down with Minna to talk all things reclamation, adaptation, and re-interpretation. Join us for a pixelated pint as we navigate the murky waters of one of Shakespeare’s most contentious plays, and how a gender-swapped troupe in Scotland are forging a new path forward with its story.

You can catch The Taming of the Shrew at the Pleasance Theatre within the University of Edinburgh until the 9th of February at 7:15pm. Tickets are available online. You can also follow the production on Instagram.

Jake: Hi Minna! Your production is taking a new spin on The Taming of The Shrew – exploring the struggle between the show’s comedic genre and misogynistic premise. Tell us about your inspirations.

Minna: What founded my inspiration was the experience of my year abroad, where I spent a year of my Classics degree at the University of Bologna. In the first Act of The Taming of the Shrew the character Lucentio arrives in Padua to attend the university. He is then immediately convinced to spend his time on pleasure and fun rather than his studies. I couldn’t help but find an echo for the year I had just spent in the sun, with my head not quite attached to my work. I first started editing the script the month I got back from my year abroad and I found so much to mine from it: from the music, to the themes, to that undefinable Italian atmosphere.

I knew The Taming of the Shrew as ‘that very sexist play’, yet when I was reading it through I found so much else to say. The theme of power generally, most pertinent to me in the forms of social capability and wealth, seemed really interesting aspects that I had never known were in it. Then all the ideas of responsibility, making one’s way in the world alongside the pull towards fun felt very present as a fourth year university student!

Jake: The EUSC has produced a very different version of the production in the past – tell us about what’s different about this piece and what has changed.

Minna: As opposed to previous productions of The Taming of the Shrew – including the one put on by the EUSC in recent years – our version has taken on a very different approach. The source material has always caused a struggle between the comedic genre of the play and the core plot that relies on a deeply misogynistic premise: forcing a woman into submission. Edinburgh University’s Shakespeare Company chose in its stark and pared back 2019 iteration to go the route of showing the original play true to form but with a tone of sombreness to reflect modern attitudes to the premise.

This had precedent, such as Michael Bogdanov’s 1978 RSC production which similarly adopted a tragic tone as Paula Dionisotti’s Katherine walked offstage a broken woman at the play’s conclusion. However this was simply not the approach that I was drawn to, for me there was so much else to present in it besides the wrought issue of one gender against another. By bringing out the setting of the play, the wealthy and erudite Northern Italy (rich Pisa as well as Padua is mentioned with affluent Venice close by), we see the other prevalent dynamics of wealth, social status, and the power of charisma. The mercantile world we highlighted using the materialism of the 80s (with a playlist of Italo disco an added bonus).

I gender-swapped the main couple as well as some other characters to try and submerge the theme of gender while in my direction I emphasised the multiplicity of other dynamics in the play: master/servant, parent/child, youth/age, rivals and siblings to name some. Thus with how we chose to frame our The Taming of The Shrew, it meant no tragic finale was needed.

Jake: Tell us about the process of developing the show, some of the people involved, and how you’ve come to realise your vision.

Minna: We have worked with so many talented creatives: Daisy Whittle our poster designer and Matilda Bull our set painter are the most wonderful artists who totally captured the beauty and luxury of the Italian setting I put forward to them. Our set designer Émilie Noël with her incredible taste has formed our resort to make it as upscale and effortlessly chic as I had envisioned. Our costume designer too, Izzy Hodgson, has created an array of costumes bold, glamorous and comedic all in turn that are a true commendation to the 1980s. The look has been totally nailed by all of them, and I count myself very lucky to have had them on my team.

Jake: Tell us about your relationship with the EUSC and how you ended up directing this show.

Minna: I first got involved in the EUSC (and student theatre in general) when I auditioned for the production of a A Midsummer Nights Dream in my second year at Edinburgh. It had its own interesting spin on the original: this version was a musical and I played one of the singing and dancing fairies (not your usual introduction to a Shakespeare production!). It was a great atmosphere and a lot of fun so when I left Edinburgh I knew it was definitely a society I wanted to go back to.

Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?

Minna: A Cynar Spritz (or spritz al cynar)! I met with an Italian tutor of mine in Venice while on my year abroad and she introduced this drink to me. If you find the Aperol too sweet but the Campari too bitter it’s the perfect blend – it quickly became my favourite. Considering the big influence of my year abroad, the summery and relaxed choice of a spritz and being a unique take on a well-known original I think it’s the perfect representation.

Tickets are available online.

Photo Credit: Shirley Snow

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them