How Florence Poskitt stepped in to play Kate in Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes The Taming Of The Shrew for YSP

Florence Poskitt: Taking on principal role of Kate

WHEN University of York student Chesca Downes had to pull out of playing Kate in York Shakespeare Project’s The Taming Of The Shrew, up stepped Florece Poskitt at short notice.

The York actor-musician and member of musical comedy duo Fladam had only a fortnight to learn and rehearse Shakespeare’s problem play for this week’s run at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from tomorrow to Saturday.

YSP chair Tony Froud says: “We’re delighted to welcome someone as talented as Flo into the cast and thank her for stepping into the role after Chesca had to withdraw for personal reasons.”

“We are very sorry to lose Chesca, but entirely understand her decision to leave the production,” adds director Maggie Smales.

Florence is a familiar face to York theatregoers, latterly appearing at Theatre@41 as Vera Claythorne in Pick Me Up Theatre’s staging of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Mishka and a gormless Shopkeeper in York Settlement Community Players’ Government Inspector last autumn.

York Shakespeare Project’s psychedelic poster for The Taming Of The Shrew

Now she is reuniting with Maggie Smales, who first directed Florence in November 2019 in Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic play When The Rain Stops Falling, again at Theatre@41.

“I was due to have a couple of weeks off after doing my own stuff with Fladam for the past two months, going down to the Greenwich Theatre in London with our Green Fingers show, and then suddenly I got a call from Maggie to say, ‘Can you do this role, Flo?’, and she’s one of those people you just can’t say ‘No’ to!” says Florence. 

“So the second I got back, I threw myself into playing Kate. She’s one of those roles that are such a treat to get to play – though ideally with more rehearsal time! I had just a week’s notice to get it learnt before joining the last week of rehearsals.

“With Shakespeare you can’t just make it work like you can with a modern text; it’s not just knowing your own lines; you’ve got know the feed lines; you have to be able to cue in other actors; you’ve got to become familiar with the blocking.”

Last Thursday night was the first full run, leading to the tech rehearsal on Sunday and dress rehearsal tonight (22/4/2024). “Everyone has been very welcoming, especially Rosy Rowley, who plays Kate’s mum [Baptista Minola] and Jim Paterson, who’s brilliant as Petruchio, as well as doing the music for the show. The chat-up scene up scene with Kate is so funny, it’s been difficult not to laugh in rehearsals.”

Maggie Smales: Directing York Shakespeare Project in The Taming Of The Shrew

As the multi-coloured psychedelic poster proclaims, Smales is setting Shakespeare’s controversial battle of the sexes in 1970 in her first YSP production since her all-female Henry V in 2015.

The Sixties have shaken off the post-World War Two blues; the baby boomers are growing up, primed and ready to do their own thing; the world is opening up, promising peace, love and equality. Surely, “The Times They Are a’Changin’” and the old order is dead. Or is it, asks Smales.

“As a play it’s not designed for a modern audience. Petruchio can be seen as a kind of abuser, and what Maggie and co-director Claire Morley have done with Kate’s monologue is to find a way around the awkwardness of her saying she can do whatever she wants now she is tamed,” says Florence.

“In this version, the ‘shrew’ [Kate] is a normal person and everyone else is abnormal, and you see what she has to go through and how these gaslighters can get to anybody.

“You don’t have to change the text. You have to change the meaning, and Maggie and Claire have been very clever at doing that. There’s very much a stereotype of what a ‘shrewish woman’ would be. We’ve decided that she fits the shrewish stereotype in wanting to fit in, but she doesn’t want to be wed. That leads to her being isolated for not being understood.”

Fladam’s Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter

The 1970 setting has led to a more open attitude. “Kate gets her comic moments, so does Petruchio because he’s so ridiculous. Once he was perceived as heroic, definitely not so now, but even though his behaviour is not right, Jim’s Petruchio is still endearing,” says Florence.

“I also gathered from Maggie that she chose 1970 as it was then that women started to be working women rather than housewives – and that connects with Kate not wanting a husband and wanting to be just herself.”

Playing Kate will be Florence’s first Shakespeare work since doing a training project at Newcastle Theatre Royal, performing snippets from Much Ado About Nothing in the role of Beatrice in 2021.

“The last time I worked with York Shakespeare Project I did the costumes for The Winter’s Tale and that’s when I first met Maggie, who was playing Paulina. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity. I did originally audition for Kate, but I would have been too busy with Fladam, but now it’s worked out well, even if I wish I’d had more time,” says Florence.

“I love doing comedy and musical theatre, but it’s lovely to do something different, to break the mould, to prove I can do more than Victoria Wood – though I would say I do play Kate quite like a Last Of The Summer Wine character. She’s quite grumpy!”

York Shakespeare Project in The Taming Of The Shrew, York International Shakespeare Festival, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, April 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: