The Taming of the Shrew is the second in Emma Rice’s inaugural ‘Wonder’ season at the Globe – a season that promises so much. Wonder being the prime promise: a feeling of newfound amazement at plays we’ve probably already seen or at least know of. Another of Rice’s promises is that each production will have a gender-balanced cast – my favourite of all the promises. Yes Emma, yes. It’s 2016, we’re all gunning for feminism and Shakespeare’s misogynistic traditions aren’t going to wash four hundred years down the line. Not with this crowd.
How better to mean business in promoting gender equality than with The Taming of the Shrew? Oh wait, no. The Taming of the Shrew is quite possibly the most misogynistic play ever written. I mean, nothing says feminism quite like an outspoken and independent female protagonist beaten down into expected marriage before being beaten down still further into full and unadulterated submission. Go on Emma, go on Caroline Byrne, prove me wrong. Show me how it’s done.
It’s not entirely possible to do that. It’s not a fair race, as you can’t change Shakespeare beyond recognition. Byrne (director) can’t gender change the cast enough to make the strong males (fathers and husbands) female. It wouldn’t work and it would defy the entire point. So the female recasts come in as the servants, the footmen, the downtrodden. The issue is they’re still dressed as men and their mannerisms are still masculine. In fact, they might as well just be men. Byrne seeks to highlight the misogyny further, which is a fair mission that doesn’t quite come off.
In the same vein, Byrne sets her Shrew in 1916 Ireland amid the Easter Rising, a legendary battle for independence that saw women fight the same fight as men without any of the acclaim. Perfect. The actors are all Irish and the costume is on point, but that’s all there is to it. You need to read the programme, at least, and maybe even be up on the Easter Rising to get the reference. But does it really matter?
Actually, no, not really. There are plenty of wonderful things about this production. It is so full of entertainment, the music is mood enhancing and storytelling and the physical comedy is brilliant. It pushes through the script with so much comedic momentum that it has more pace and hilarity than I have ever known The Taming of the Shrew to have. The cast works as an ensemble to make us laugh with clowning, physicality and wit that doesn’t drop.
It is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, packed full of ups, downs, intricate visuals and solid performances. There is wonder, still, in the place itself. A part of history is instilled in it and there is such a sense of camaraderie within the audience stood in the open space that the Globe is an event of its own.
The Taming of the Shrew is playing at the Globe Theatre until 6 August. For more information and tickets, see the Shakespeare’s Globe website.