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Emily Spowage
Emily Spowage

Emily Spowage on pole dancing, Shakespeare and a gender-swapping Petruchio

Home » People » Emily Spowage on pole dancing, Shakespeare and a gender-swapping Petruchio

This summer, Manchester-based actor, Emily Spowage joins HER Productions signature all female and non-binary cast as Petruchio for the company’s unique take to one of Shakespeare’s most provocative comedies, The Taming of The Shrew.
She talks to Katie Johnson about bringing cabaret, clowns and pole dancing to Shakespeare.

Tell us about yourself and the character you are playing
Emily: “I have been acting for 10 years, but this is my first Shakespeare piece. I’m really excited. I’m playing Petruchio, which is obviously usually a male role, but with the context of us performing it inside a cabaret club, I am the cabaret performer who’s taking on the part of the Petruchio. He’s bombastic, he’s loud, he is, can be aggressive, he can be violent, he is controlling, and he always gets his own way. And he certainly likes to control a situation and he believes that what he says goes, and that he can do anything that he wants to do because he’s just that kind of man.”

What drove you to play this role? What has been the most interesting aspect of your character to explore?

Emily: “We’re moving on with the kind of parts that get written for women, but parts like this still don’t get written for women, really. So, it’s brilliant to be able to step into playing these shoes. I’m also really enjoying the element of it being an all-female cast and the fact that we aren’t shying away from the fact that we are women playing these parts. We’re stepping into the over-the-top nature of it and really playing those stereotypes and those kind of features and characteristics of this kind of man, that this kind of man would not see in himself”.

Emily Spowage
Emily Spowage

How do the elements of burlesque, clowns, and cabaret contribute to the storytelling of The Taming of the Shrew?

Emily: “So, we have a central pole for a start. So, the pole, as in a pole dancing pole is the central feature of our set. We use it as different elements of the set. Sometimes it’s a door, sometimes it’s a lookout point, sometimes it’s being used as a pole. Also, the cast is very much a chorus in a way. Lots of characters multi-role anyway but when we aren’t playing another character, we might be supporting vocally. We might be creating some set, and some people are playing tables and pieces of furniture so it’s very much created in the moment. So visually it looks great. Obviously, it’s a minimal set, but we’re utilising all the people to create those elements.

“Also, the cast is super talented. We’ve got some beautiful singers and amazing dancers so it’s kind of all singing, all dancing, all grinding!”

Can you share any interesting or surprising moments from the rehearsal process that significantly shaped your performance?

Emily: “I’d been focusing on Petruchio, so working the cabaret performer into that was really interesting for me. There’s some beautiful moments where some cabaret is happening at the same time as a really interesting monologue. And just the fact that it’s all women on the stage and the way we’re staging these things – it really gives weight to the words.

“Obviously, when this play was written, there’s a few ways of interpreting it, but often it is repeated in this text that a woman, a wife is a belonging – she belongs to her husband. He can decide what she does, where she goes, how she lives and who she is. So, I think it really brings out those words that it is a woman performing. Especially with that cabaret element, which can be so empowering and so political at the same time. I just think it’s adding weight to the patriarchal structures that we still also live in”.

What do you hope the audience takes away from this production?

Emily: ““I think this play has been demonised a little bit and quite rightly because there’s quite a lot of spousal abuse in it, even though it is a comedy.

“We have made it funny. It’s funny, it’s entertaining, it’s got singing, it’s got dancing, it’s got burlesque. But the weight of the play is about the patriarchy and the violence that a lot of women still have to suffer. The beauty of Shakespeare is that we can keep looking at it through different eyes, through modern eyes and we can just give different people the power to tell the story and put the microphone in a different person’s hands and say, ‘I’m going to tell this story from a woman’s perspective’.

“We are going to tell this story and we’re going to take back the power in a way. So, I think we shouldn’t be frightened of any of these plays, it’s just who we give the microphone to, and I think that’s what we’re trying to explore”.

HER productions The Taming of The Shrew is at Hope Mill Theatre on June 19 – 30, the production will then move to Shakespeare North Playhouse July 10-13 and conclude its run with two nights at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield on 17 and 19 July.

Katie Johnson
Written by
Katie Johnson

Katie is a Manchester-based journalist, interested in music, social issues and the arts

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Katie Johnson Written by Katie Johnson