(The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare, Globe Theatre, London, England)
Toby Frow’s production of The Taming at the Shrew at the Globe Theatre in London (run ends October 13) achieves the level of quality that you would expect from the Royal Shakespeare Company. It hits all the puns and double entendres for comedic effect but provides nothing new to a play with so much scope for exploration as it is arguably one of Shakespeare’s wittiest comedies.
The production is largely hampered by the lack of depth of the title characters of Katherine and Petruchio. In the script there is so much room to explore their relationship with so many questions being posed to the reader. Such as why is Katherine a ‘curst’ shrew or why does Petruchio feel the need to assert his masculinity in such a dominant manner? The biggest question that a reader of the play will face is why do Katherine and Petruchio eventually fall in love? Shakespeare’s play fails to answer all of these questions as the relationship between the two is underwritten leaving the reader, or director, to come to their own conclusion on these issues. The director, Toby Frow, seems to allow the script itself to answer these questions but this becomes problematic as the answers are not in the script. The Taming of the Shrew has several underdeveloped characters and in order for this play to fulfil cathartic expectations of the audience the plot and the characters need to be coloured in by the director’s vision of the play.
The strength of the play comes in its use of space as the structure of the Globe Theatre allows for innumerable possibilities when it comes to both staging and blocking. Many of the characters entered and exited through the audience allowing the viewers to focus their attention on a specific part of the stage while another character quietly exited elsewhere. It also made it an interactive experience for those with standing tickets. For example, during Petruchio and Katherine’s famous verbal boxing match Katherine tried to escape through the audience, followed by Petruchio, and even threw a couple of (non-fatal) punches at unlucky audience members. It was not only humorous but it broke down the fourth wall and allowed the audience to really immerse themselves within the play and created an enjoyable experience for all. This also occurred at the beginning of the play with the portrayal of Christopher Sly as a local drunkard dressed in England football team clothing who proceeds to violently attack a steward and then urinate on stage. While this is a very basic interpretation and portrayal of the Christopher Sly subplot it worked well at focusing the audiences’ attention on the start of the play and made the audience feel a part of the piece.
The play is most interesting with its portrayal of Bianca and Grumio. The former is depicted brilliantly by Sarah MacRae as an equally shrewish character as Katherine but the difference between them comes in the affection of their father Baptista Minola (Pip Donaghy). Baptista obviously favours the fair Bianca and she uses this to her advantage several times throughout the play when Katherine and herself are arguing and fighting. This type of representation creates a sibling rivalry between the two characters and adds a new dimension to the play but it is never fully explored to its full potential which is in part due to Katherine not being fully developed in her relationship with her father or Petruchio.
While Frow’s production of The Taming of the Shrew hits all its marks it fails to do anything else with one of Shakespeare’s most easily adaptable and witty plays. The play spends most of its time reinventing the characters of Bianca and Grumio while seemingly ignoring the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio. Many of the characters in this production of The Taming of the Shrew are stereotypes which are established early on and then the features of their characters are repeated endlessly for comic effect. The best way to describe this play is by calling it a ‘nice’ production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and that it panders to the tourist attraction that the Globe has become. However, with that being said it is not a bad production and for the right price it is an entertaining three hours.