“For she is changed, as she had never been”
Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.
That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.
Where the humour may have occasionally broadened out a tad beyond my own personal preferences, it almost always remains extremely charming. This is primarily due to the ever-effervescent Spiro’s strong-willed turn as a highly physical Katherina – wouldn’t you just love to see her in a JCB – whose unpredictability is marvellously dangerous yet always underscored with something endearing, this is a rebel with a cause we all want to root for.
And Simon Paisley Day’s Petruchio swaggers with a refreshing unselfconsciousness, less of a brute and more of a blusterer, and highly entertaining with it. Casting up (a little bit) in age, (as far as previous productions I’ve seen) layers something special into the mix too, recalling a Beatrice/Benedick kind of relationship and adding an occasional note of real poignancy. Around them is lot of interesting work, Sarah MacRae’s vivacious Bianca works the annoying little sister vibe perfectly and Pearce Quigley’s perma-mugging Grumio comes close to scene-stealing.
After the Rylance-led Original Practices productions, I was also pleased to see a return to a playing style that utterly embraces the Globe and its unique audience set-up. The yard provides such opportunity for interaction that it always feels a shame when productions don’t embrace this to its fullest – Frow ensures this is far from the case here – not every production has to mine huge psychological depth – and so the whole thing just becomes an inclusive warm hug of a time and a rollicking good show.