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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare's Globe


  Samantha Spiro/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Unlike Katie Holmes, Shakespeare’s shrewish heroine Katherina does not sign a prenup before she marries Petruchio – which from a purely narrative point of view is just as well, otherwise this play would be a lot shorter than it is. Starvation, sleep deprivation and a little light beating would all be ample meat for divorce lawyers today, so it seems an almost impossible task for a director to ensure that Petruchio seduces 21st century audiences along with his unfortunate wife. 
Yet Toby Frow’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe exudes such an extraordinary charm that for most of the play’s duration even a leading feminist like Germaine Greer would refrain from ordering Petruchio’s balls on a plate. As with all of the Bard’s comedies, the plot deploys devices ranging from identity swaps to delightfully vulgar puns, and Frow works the mechanics of Shakespeare’s humour like an expert engineer.  
The production opens with a brilliant coup de theatre, which – like a magician’s trick – should not be revealed, but sets the assured comic tone for the evening. Quickly we are introduced to the Paduan Baptista Minola and his two daughters. The youngest, Bianca, is blond but – though obedient – definitely not bland in Sarah MacRae’s spirited performance, happily juggling suitors ranging from the sublime to the ridiculously senile. The eldest, Samantha Spiro’s Katherina, is a lute-smashing delusion-bashing harpy – she doesn’t eat an apple, but annihilates it, and if she can’t kill a man with a glance, she simply uses martial arts to subjugate him.
The genre of shrew-taming was a common one historically – so the play becomes a little more palatable once you become aware of how much more sensitive Shakespeare is to the female character than earlier playwrights were. It is famously impossible to pin down the Bard’s values – but from Falstaff to Othello the characters he loves most are his most verbally dexterous – and if The Taming of the Shrew were to be seen purely as a battle of rhetoric, Katherina and Petruchio remain equals throughout. It helps that Simon Paisley Day’s Petruchio has a gloriously absurd charm. He is an actor who can sport a ludicrous purple codpiece with pride, but he can also make the entire Globe go quiet as he wrings the poetry from Shakespeare’s lines. It also helps that Frow makes it clear that the pair are physical equals. One of the best points in the evening is when, after flinging each other round the stage, Spiro asks, "Where did you study all this speech?" – a beautifully ironic moment of mind over muscle.
What seals the evening, however, is the sense that every single performer is giving it their comic best. As Petruchio’s servant Grumio, Pearce Quigley can steal a scene using little more than a raised eyebrow and a bucket, while Rick Warden’s Hortensio is a paragon of constipated charm. Nothing but nothing can reconcile a modern audience to Katherina’s speech of submission at the end, and to this degree, Shakespeare’s play will always remain greater in its parts than in the sum of them. Yet that reservation conceded, this is a bawdy delight that shows the Globe at its irreverent best, and sends audience members out smiling as – just downriver - the newly completed Shard glimmers above the city skyline.


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