James Shirley’s 1635 comedy shows a husband scheming to correct his wife’s behaviour, but it is less taming a shrew than reining in a shopaholic. Aretina Bornwell, the titular lady, spends and sleeps her way to the centre of the social elite. To curb such excesses, her husband opts to trump her at the same game, taking a mistress, Celestina, and lavishing on her the best that money can buy.
Direcor David Cottis transposes the action to 1960s London, which neatly fits the characters’ freewheeling, fashion-conscious attitudes, but resonates strongest in terms of gender and generational difference. Elizabeth Donnelly’s Celestina bristles with feminist ideas, but she’s not above a coquettishness à la Marilyn Monroe.
Aretina, played noveau riche by Sally Mortemore, seems all the more ridiculous for being mutton dressed as Lulu.
For all that the setting makes sense, its treatment remains superficial. The version of the ’60s
is generic and catch-all and Cottis illuminates neither play nor history. Nonetheless, this ‘Lady of Pleasure’ is diverting enough.