Shakespeare's 'problem' play The Taming of the Shrew has been given a distinctly Irish makeover and set in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising, in Caroline Byrne's confident and lively production at Shakespeare's Globe.
Two sisters are being married off, Bianca is hell-bent on it and can't wait to fly the nest. Kate, on the other hand, baulks at the thought of losing her independence and struggles to think of anything worse. That's all well and good, but Kate has to marry first for Bianca to be allowed to be wed. And while Bianca has no shortage of suitors, who will get hitched to Kate, the fabulous and ungovernable shrew?
Perhaps Petruchio might take her on for a bet, he's a bit of a gold digger and as wild and rebellious as our Kate.
The action here hasn't been relocated – it is still in Padua and no attempt is made to make the Rising part of the plot. It is the choice of a time and society close to our own and still governed by patriarchal values. It is also a time when the 'new woman' was reacting in protest and when the Irish rebels in proclaiming their Republic declared common suffrage and equal rights for men and women.
This production has certainly lost none of the play's power to provoke and outrage and manages to be both thought-provoking and very funny in equal measure. There is a terrific scene when Kate, being dressed for her wedding, is spun round by the laces of her corset like a fly caught in a web. Furthermore Caroline Byrne's depiction of the marriage between Kate and Petruchio us sharp and striking – filthy and drained of all energy. Kate resembles a crushed bird. And yet this Petruchio is also a man with tenderness somewhere in his heart who genuinely believes the brutal subjugation of his wife is the best way to love her.
Aoife Duffin (who was so good in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing) stepping into the role of Kate at just two week's notice due to the indisposition of the original lead actress, is excellent, bringing spirit, stoicism and power to the part, and with a plaintive singing voice that cracks with emotion. Edward McLiam has a suitably wild swagger as Petruchio, that gives way to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger chastisement of his "froward" wife. Good support is given by the rest of the all-Irish cast, in particular, Aaron Heffernan as a puppyish, hapless Lucentio and Imogen Doel as a sparky Tranio.
A stingingly provocative production, then, that marks a triumph in the Globe's Shakespearean repertoire.
The Taming of the Shrew
Runs until August 2016 at Shakespeare's Globe, London.
Box office: 020 7401 9919
Photo: Marc BrennerLast modified: April 6, 2021