Reviews

The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe – review

Jude Christian’s radical production runs until 26 October

Thalissa Teixeira and Andrew Leung in a scene from The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe
Thalissa Teixeira and Andrew Leung in The Taming of the Shrew, © Helen Murray

“You mean to make a puppet of me!”

It’s the line, spoken by the put-upon Katharina to her domineering new husband Petruchio, that unlocks Jude Christian’s version of The Taming of the Shrew, continuing a season at Shakespeare’s Globe that foregrounds the misogynistic underpinnings of so many of the Bard’s texts.

Here, with the company donning giant puppet masks or carrying hand-puppets to perform certain characters, Shrew becomes a Punch and Judy-esque farce. By augmenting the artifice, the pervasive nature of the sexism is inescapable.

Christian’s out-there take on Shakespeare’s problem play is signalled from the moment audiences enter the auditorium, greeted by the sight of Rosie Elnile’s giant, stuffed-toy Shrew that dominates the centre of the Globe stage. Performers enter and exit through its belly, birthed onto the stage with haphazard abandon.

The Globe has to be admired for programming directors who know Shakespeare’s plays have more than enough mettle to carry the weight of contemporary twists. This certainly won’t be a version of the play that any purist will enjoy.

The plot follows a ploy hatched by a series of aristocratic suitors to mould a wayward daughter into a wife, in order to convince a nobleman to give his other, more amenable daughter, for marriage. Even writing it all out makes you cringe a bit. Rather than trying to sanitise the tale, Christian leans into its garishness, admittedly often with varying levels of success.

In Christian’s version of the text, Petruchio (a petulant Andrew Leung) remains an enigmatic, coercive and gaslighting figure – revelling as he essentially tortures his new bride. Thalissa Teixeira’s Katharina, battling to hold focus during a show where every trick in the book has been thrown into the mix, highlights the plight of the shrew’s life – who wouldn’t want to be a bit prickly when surrounded by so many abhorrent men?

In a coup for inspired scheduling, the Globe’s production opens just as Kiss Me, Kate plays less than a mile away at the Barbican. This, I’d say, feels like the more radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic. It’s hard to express how much Christian has chucked at the wall here – metatheatrical moments see a cast member scrambling to escape the story, while another is unexpectedly murdered. A third, sat on stage, keeps telling the rest of the troupe to stop wasting time and crack on. There’s excellent and subtle work from Eloise Secker as Petruchio’s servant Grumio, while Ian Charleson Award nominee Tyreke Leslie brings out the laughs as Tranio.

What happens when the company have a problem with their own problem play? The results are far from tame.

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The Taming of the Shrew

Final performance: 26 October 2024