The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
Fort Gate, Fort Canning Park, Singapore

The Shakespeare’s Globe has increasingly taken a step away from traditional, tourist-friendly restagings of the Bard’s plays and explored more contemporary interpretations. Joe Murphy’s breezy, all-female production of Taming, which opened in London this summer before embarking on a global tour that includes the company’s first ever appearance in Singapore, offers an interesting feminine insight into this early comedy with its stark gender codes and misogynistic bent.

The venue at Fort Gate, tucked away at the top of Fort Canning Park, is leafy and intimate and the simple, unadorned staging of a striped circus tent on a wooden platform conjures up the feel of a band of travelling players who have sauntered into the city for the night. Entertainment is clearly the watchword of the evening. Murphy’s production intersperses the play with original songs sung by the cast, the colourful Forties setting lends the university town of Padua the air of a summer carnival, and there is a hint of vaudeville in the way many of the smaller characters are portrayed.

Photo Credit: Shakespeare's Globe

Unfortunately, the acoustics prove somewhat of a disappointment. Most Globe productions are performed sans technology and this may work in the beautifully reconstructed theatre on London’s South Bank that allows for the sound to reverberate through its wooden walls. Here, the verse is occasionally lost into the tropical night and one finds oneself straining to catch what the actors are saying. The seating could also have been improved by adopting a thrust staging that brought the audience much closer to the action.

Kate Lamb does a decent job as Katherina “Kate” Minola, the titular shrew who has very decided views on life and marriage. Yet, Lamb’s Kate is one who comes across as being grumpy and irritable instead of truly acerbic and “devilish”. I was not too convinced by the verbal sparring between her and Petruchio in their first meeting, a scene that usually crackles with raw, sexual energy. It also makes Petruchio’s declaration that he is “as peremptory as [Kate] is proud-minded/And when two raging fires meet together/They do consume the thing which feeds their fury” somewhat hollow. The idea of the two of them on some level being kindred spirits is never made manifest.

Lamb’s Kate appears sarcastic throughout the play instead of truly changed by Petruchio’s mistreatment, and this idea of the woman who subjugates herself before a man but retains a patina of subtle, simmering bitterness adds modern colour to the traditional idea of the wife dancing to the tune of her boisterous husband. It makes Petruchio look like an utter fool when he forces her to treat the elderly Vincentio as a sweet young girl and brings a frisson of delicious irony to Kate’s closing speech, where she declares her unflinching desire to “serve, love and obey” her husband, words which only make Petruchio awkwardly look away. Perhaps Murphy’s point here is that a woman can dissemble just as well as a man. Kate is not the psychologically overwrought, “tamed” soul but a canny creature who plays along with her husband’s whims to achieve her goal of getting married and being rid of her father and princess-like sister.

Photo Credit: Shakespeare's Globe

Leah Whitaker’s Petruchio, all sex and swagger, cuts a striking figure as the money-grubbing lothario who decides to take on the task of turning Kate into a proper wife. She is particularly arresting in the wedding scene where she shows up drunk and unruly. Olivia Morgan is also memorable as Kate’s sister Bianca – her deep, masculine voice and decided air hinting from the outset that she may not be the sweet, angelic girl everyone makes her out to be.

In the supporting roles, Remy Beasley provides outstanding support as Tranio who disguises himself as his master Lucentio to court Bianca. Beasley commands the stage with her jokey, blokey antics and almost visibly overshadows the real Lucentio (a milder, more diminutive Becci Gemmell). Joy Richardson also proves versatile in her comic roles as hapless suitor Gremio, elderly Vincentio and the loud-mouthed Widow.

Photo Credit: Shakespeare's Globe

Taming is unique amongst Shakespeare’s plays in featuring a framing device called the Induction featuring Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker who is kicked out of an inn. Chanced upon by a passing lord and his entourage, Sly is draped in finery and surrounded by servants and led to believe that he is an aristocrat. This nicely sets up the play as a theatrical construct where a man outwits and tames an unruly woman into submission – though, in actual fact, he is the one being outwitted all along. What’s slightly more interesting is the lesser-performed final scene from the quarto version of the play which features Sly, stripped of his finery and left outside the inn once again, being forced to concede that the entire play was but a wonderful dream. It might have been a perfect opportunity for Murphy to reinforce the idea that the play was nothing more than a diversion set up as part of an elaborate prank – with the joke being on the man – and significantly reducing the bitter misogyny that lies at its heart.

Ultimately, this production of Taming achieves its primary purpose of providing good quality Shakespeare in an atmospheric, convivial setting. Murphy’s production could have explored the feminine angle a little better and the sound quality and seating configuration could have been improved, but this is nonetheless a solid slice of Shakespeare by a group of talented women.

The Crytalwords score: 3/5

*This review was written for The Flying Inkpot.


Popular Posts