Having not particularly enjoyed Conall Morrison's debut RSC production of Macbeth in the Swan Theatre, his debut at the Courtyard comes as a pleasant surprise.
The current Stratford benchmark in this play is Pilot's all-male production which played the Courtyard as part of the Complete Works festival, leaving behind little more than a strong impression of the play's unpleasantness.
Morrison, on the other hand, finds much to celebrate in it, turning in an energetic ensemble production full of inventive touches.
If the notorious misogyny is hardly airbrushed out, it is at least distanced by the unique play-within-a-play structure. The logic of this - the main play is staged as an entertainment to the drunk, Christopher Sly, the butt of a practical joke whereby he is persuaded to believe that he has woken up as a lord - seems tenuous to say the least.
Encouraged to take on the role of the shrew-tamer Petruchio, Sly drives a fantasy of male domination which is finally rejected by the ensemble, as they return to the backed-up lorry from which they were disgorged, limbering-up in self-parodying RSC style, at the start of the play.
It's a somewhat contrived solution to the need evidently felt within a liberal cultural institution to reject the unacceptable message of Shakespeare's play.
Stephen Boxer erupts on to the stage as a Brummie Sly plucked straight from a lads' night out on Broad Street. He goes on to make an imposing if physically cruel Petruchio who is well matched by Michelle Gomez's Katherina (pictured right with Stephen Boxer). Well known for her television work in series like Green Wing and The Book Club, Gomez has created a unique persona of angular and dangerous Scottish comedy and the pair strike sparks in the early scenes. The stoicism with which she undergoes and accepts successive humiliations is put into perspective by that final contemptuous departure.
But while this relationship is always going to be the centre of the play, this production finds plenty to work with in the Bianca subplot and supporting characters, while playing loose with period and look.
Incidental pleasures include Larrington Walker's Jamaican Merchant and Keir Charles's fatal-istic servant Tranio, played as a hangdog Brummie, while David Hargreaves, here playing Katherina's father, is always worth watching.
The Courtyard won the public's affection with the sparsely-staged history plays, but Francis O'Connor's ingenious set, with its revolving dilapidated video store, gives a further idea of how this deep thrust stage can be used. n Running time: Three hours, 20 minutes. In rep until Sep 25.