The Taming of the Shrew tells the story of Kate, a stubborn and impolite woman who does not mince her words; her father won't let her younger sister Bianca marry until Kate is wed, but no man wants to marry her. Bianca's suitors encourage Petruchio to marry Kate for her father's wealth, which he happily does, and begins using physical and psychological abuse to "tame" his unruly wife. Meanwhile, Bianca's suitors disguise themselves as tutors so that they might woo her in secret. Naturally, chaos of mistaken identity ensues.
Jude Christian makes some wonderful choices with the text, especially managing to bring Shakespeare's wordplay to life through some very pleasing slapstick - not an easy feat! She furthers the reach of this play's accessibility through interjections of modern speech, a surprisingly welcome addition.

As is often the case when performing Shakespeare, the cast show a range of talent and comfort with the Bard's text, but overall are generally very good. They all engage with the audience well, making us feel in on their jokes. Some particular highlights include Sophie Mercell's knowing and sassy Bianca, Eloise Secker's beautifully tragic Grumio, trapped in her own abusive power dynamic with Petruchio, and Nigel Barrett bringing hilariously vibrant chaos as well as nuance to Christopher Sly/Gremio. Andrew Leung relishes the more sinister moments of Petruchio's arc, and we only wish we could see more of this true villainy. However, the star of this show is without doubt Lizzie Hopley as Hortensio; Lizzie performs as though she is a puppet master, completely understanding the needs of the space for exaggerated performance without ever crossing into "too much" territory. 

Where this production falls short is its overall interpretation, which seems to have vision, but lacks any sort of clarity or impact in execution. The giant teddy bear which underpins the set is certainly impressive, holding a large rock which presumably hints at the dualistic nature of an abusive partner - seeming soft and comforting but always capable of damage - though its presence never quite makes sense. The costuming, again, strange, evoking a sense of childhood dressing up and playing with puppets - are we meant to take that the way men treat women as play things throughout is akin to infants who do not yet have an understanding of morality? An interesting proposition, but nothing more to suggest this is the case. It feels as though the design of this production is trying to tell its own story, rather than enhance that being told by the performers and text, and as a result, neither story is told especially effectively. Truly, this tale may not be able to be followed if you aren't already familiar with the plot. 

The music throughout is excellent, though it often drowns out the voices - singing or speaking - due to the cavernous nature of this theatre, which is frustrating at times. 

Indeed, it is an especially loud production on all fronts - the stage is often cluttered with people during moments of real significance; Kate's slow and brutal walk to submission feels glossed over, and her final monologue (delivered exceptionally by Thalissa Teixeira) loses impact as a result. 

An enjoyable evening, but a bit of a head-scratcher, The Taming of the Shrew runs at Shakespeare's Globe until 26th October.

Review: Penny Lane      Photo: Helen Murray