This is a man’s world

Dan Wheeler (Katherine) and Vince Leigh (Petruchio) in Propeller's 2013 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Credit Manuel Harlan.
Dan Wheeler (Katherine) and Vince Leigh (Petruchio) in Propeller's 2013 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Credit Manuel Harlan.

All-male Shakespearean production company Propeller are back in Sheffield, with The Taming of the Shrew.

As Katherine – the ‘Shrew’ whom Petruchio attempts to tame - Dan Wheeler is taking on one of the strongest female characters in the Shakespeare canon.

“There is no point in trying to convince people we are women,” he says. “But I wear a dress and make-up and I would like to think by the end of the play the audience have forgotten I am a man

“The play is about human relationships in general. She is not an ordinary girl and in a very different situation from what we are used to, she’s in a society where a woman is a commodity. It still happens today in other societies, even ours perhaps.

The Taming of the Shrew follows the efforts of two competing suitors clamouring for the hand of the beautiful Bianca, while gold digging Petruchio agrees to wed her ill-tempered sister, Katherine - or Kate - sight-unseen. The play suggests there is a thin line between marrying for love and marrying for money.

“The key with Kate is that she doesn’t want to be treated like a girl and wants the same rights as men.”

The play is often regarded as posing difficulties for modern audiences in its resolution which seems to confirm the subjugation of women by men. Does having a male Kate make it easier or harder to deal with this?

Wheeler then cites director Ed Hall’s view that it is only as a problem play if people arrive with thoseconceptions.

“The way we do the ending is honest and hard and not what people expect,” continues Wheeler. “It’s tragic and the audience is stunned into silence. It’s not a misogynistic play but a tragic story about when one person has all the power and the other doesn’t and all sorts of works of fiction deal with that.”

The fact is by having all the parts played by males Propeller are performing it as it would have been done in Shakespeare’s time.

”The women’s parts were written for men so there is an extra layer of meaning that comes with that, especially in Twelfth Night (the other play Propeller are touring, though not in Sheffield) where you can have a man playing a woman impersonating a man,” says Wheeler.

“In Taming of the Shrew Kate is not an ordinary girl and I think being acted by a man heightens the ridiculous nature of the situation.”

This is Wheeler’s debut with Propeller. “I have seen their shows and been following them for years,” he says. “So it’s a dream come true.” Especially, you feel, as the company has just come back from seven weeks in the USA and will later go to Italy, Spain and Germany after UK dates.

Has he previously performed in drag? “I have been in a dress before but in a pantomime situation, not high drama like this.”

The Taming of the Shrew is at the Lyceum Theatre Wednesday to Saturday.