The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe
The Globe’s new offering of the Bard’s rather problematic play does what most of their productions do well: create a rousing and buoyant spectacle full of cheeky interactions with the audience and a lovely, rustic musical score, full of accordions, pipes and bodhrán beats. This production of The Taming of the Shrew won’t redefine anyone’s pre-existing notions of the Globe’s output, be it positive or negative, but perhaps given the potential to provoke discussion and emotion on the gender politics of the play, director Caroline Byrne’s take ends up being a rather more tentative and unsure adaptation than it no doubt intended to be.
There is clearly no lack of theoretical ideas in the approach taken for the show, as will be immediately apparent in the actors’ use of Irish brogues that are as sturdy as the boards upon which they perform. The programme reveals this production to be set in 1916, due to the Easter Uprising’s leadership declaring that, if successful, women and men would have equal rights. Nonetheless, Shakespeare’s text has been faithfully reproduced (including references to it’s Italian location), with the Irish setting ending up a perfect fit for the whimsy and ribaldry of this play
The cast by-and-large not only confidently deliver the dialogue but also show excellent dynamism and timing in executing Emma Martin’s choreography, with the production also utilising physical comedy director Joe Dieffenbacher. There are many strong turns, from the master-servant duo of Imogen Doel’s puckish Tranio and Arron Heffernan’s Lucentio – with the latter’s unsettling facial hair making him a dead ringer for Disney’s Mr. Winkie – to Raymond Keane’s unsuccessful suitor Grumio, clad in Colonel Sanders-chic, and the befuddled patriarch himself Baptista (Gary Lilburn) who sets the whole story in motion with his desire to marry off his two daughters. Lucentio pursues the beautiful and demure Bianca (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman) whilst the eponymous shrew, Katharine (Aoife Duffin) is married off to the only man who can match her volatile outbursts, the brutish Petruchio (Edward MacLiam). Duffin is excellent as Katharine, making the character sympathetic without softening her aggressive and spiky personality. Whilst she brings soul and depth to the play, MacLiam, though looking the part, struggles to bring much dimension to his role, with too much shouting in lieu of substance.
This means that The Taming of the Shrew has a schizoid feel to it, with Byrne’s attempts to get to grips with the more serious subject matter of what is basically domestic abuse feeling very insincere after the glut of slow-motion punches, knob jokes and general fourth-wall breaking of the first half. This would be less problematic if these scenes had some level of ominous undercurrent behind the comedy, but instead Petruchio’s walking caricature is tough to take too seriously in the second act. Yet, thankfully, there’s enough entertaining side-business throughout for the large ensemble that plays to the strengths of this production even as the main storyline falters. Thus you never fully forget the unique joy of watching a Globe show.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Taming of the Shrew is on at the Globe Theatre from 13th May until 6th August 2016, for more information or to book visit here.