Jun 11, 2016blog, review

The Taming of the Shrew - A modern take on an uncomfortable script

It’s always interesting to see directors try to reframe Shakespeare’s words to fit in with modern ideas.

The Globe’s most recent take on the Taming of the Shrew is an exercise in just that. It’s a more realistic, emotional take on a script that is fabulously misogynist to modern eyes.

Any performance of Taming of the Shrew — a fairly accurate tale of Elizabethan Stockholm Syndrome where an unruly young woman, Elizabeth, “tamed” by new husband Petrucio— presents a choice for the director.

Do you address the themes with traditional British light-heartedness? Treat Katherine’s ordeal as a bit of a joke to be laughed about in the closing scenes? Or, do you face the play’s problems head on?

As society becomes more aware of feminist issues, we are at a watershed moment for this play. We no longer endure entrenched sexism, and even the Bard needs to adapt.

Set in early-20th century Ireland, the classical surroundings belie how much of an update the play has actually been given. With shades of Beckett, director Caroline Byrne uses bleak, twisted, almost apocalyptic sets to underscore the depths of Katherine’s mistreatment at the hands of Petrucio, leaving the audience in no doubt that what they are seeing is psychological torture.

Aoife Duffin’s turn as the beleaguered Katherine is inspired; she brings just the right amount of confident swagger, poise and elegance to the role. The musical interludes give the audience a chance to empathise with her through her rich, yet raw, voice.

Edward MacLiam’s outright villainous portrayal of Katherine’s spouse, Petrucio, is an appropriate vessel for a masculinity in crisis.

Lucentio and Bianca. Photo: Johan Persson.

Joe Dieffenbacher’s well-executed physical comedy, channeled mainly through the double-act of noble suitor Lucentio and his servant Tranio, adds some joyful levity to an otherwise staunch production.

Everything hangs together well right up to the final scenes. As Katherine gives her final speech, having become the model, obedient spouse, we feel a mixture of relief, sadness and grief for her.

We don’t know much about the Bard, but we know he a man was ahead of his time in most ways. So, we can hope that Caroline Byrne’s production is a truer portrayal of what he tried to put down on paper than most other directors have attempted in the meantime.

The Taming of the Shrew is at Shakespeare’s Globe until July.