This year commemorating the 400 years since Shakespeare's death has seen many works adapted from and inspired by the great poet. Birmingham Royal Ballet's latest contribution to the worldwide series is John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew, a production that harks back to the past as much as it looks forward into the future.

Karla Doorbar as Bianca © Bill Cooper
Karla Doorbar as Bianca
© Bill Cooper

The afternoon got off to a bright start with the skittish overture of Kurt-Heinz Stolze's music after Domenico Scarlatti. Actual Scarlatti really shines through only occasionally in the score, complete with harpsichord, and honours the historical aspect of the piece; elsewhere the music is spiced up with 20th century material bearing a hue of Britten, a pinch of Stravinskyan modernisms and a generous helping of Orffian oomph. This mirrors the production which combines the old in beautiful historical costumes and the new in modern-day elements of characters. First created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, Cranko's choreography has moments in which it feels outdated with regards to political correctness; and then again his Katherina, quick-witted and fiercely independent, bears, at times, strong resemblance to a modern-day woman.

With the original narrative necessarily streamlined, the audience is promptly introduced to Bianca, ferociously wooed by Hortensio, Lucentio and Gremio. Yet regardless of whom she might eventually choose, Bianca is not to be married until her stroppy sister Katherina is wed. Initially discouraged, things start looking up for the three suitors as they encounter Petruchio – skint and drunk – in a pub. He's in it for the money and easily convinced to ask for Katherina's hand in marriage, who is dragged off, kicking and screaming, to her wedding.

Nao Sakuma (Katherina) and Tyrone Singleton (Petruchio) © Bill Cooper
Nao Sakuma (Katherina) and Tyrone Singleton (Petruchio)
© Bill Cooper
Meanwhile something has developed between Karla Doorbar's delicate, sweet Bianca and César Morales' ardent yet modest Lucentio. While their pas de deux are intentionally kept somewhat superficial, the two dancers are brilliantly matched in their soft approach with ever-parallel lines. The magic of the duets between Katherina and Petruchio, however, lies elsewhere. Initially, encounters are marked by wrestling rather than dancing, all dug-in heels, fists and claws, then magic in the moment where Nao Sakuma's Katherina clearly softened and first, tender feelings blossomed. Sakuma gave a wonderfully disagreeable impression of the older sister, prickly, cynical, disapproving, her movements distinctly lacking sweetness yet graced with genuine artlessness, tidy but expressive. Her performance was matched by Tyrone Singleton's exuberant Petruchio, all brawn and machismo and bursting with vigour in his leaps.

Their evolving relationship is precisely charted in the choreography, and yet their final pas de deux does not succumb to the treacly but exhibits a gripping sense of relief and liberation as both characters finally embrace their true feelings. Movements, especially Sakuma's, which, until then, had remained contained and in character, now expanded through her arms and reached out of her hands, revealing grand emotion and giving this duet intensity and extra depth – mesmerising.

The entire corps impressed in pretty formations and intricate footwork and partook eagerly in the bawdy, physical comedy of the play. Comic moments are often emphasised and enhanced by Stolze's mickey-mousing score, transparently and solidly played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonietta under Wolfgang Heinz. Whether you're a Shakespeare fan or not, this production is fabulous entertainment and tremendously good fun.