Deanna Smid (Brandon University)
14 July 2016
The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe, until 6 August 2016
Director: Caroline Byrne
Dramaturg and Lyricist: Morna Regan
Caroline Byrne’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, at the Globe until 6 August, is an all-Irish homage to the Easter Uprising of 1916. It is also a hilarious romp of a play, breathtaking in its brilliant music, audience involvement, and acting. The play begins with outstanding musical productions from Mark Bousie, Loïc Bléjean, Úna Palliser, and Tag Sargent, whose performative prowess primes the audience for a rousing, fun production. Music—incidental and otherwise—continues to be a prime feature of the splendid play.
Music, and the 1916 uprisings, takes center stage in the song that Katherine sings at the beginning, middle, and end of the play (and which replaces the framing device of Sly and the lord). Written by Morna Regan, the song is an appeal for women to be included in Irish history. Its most memorable line is one taken from Yeats’s “Easter 1916,” for Katherine repeatedly asks to be to “numbered in the song” along with the men Yeats mentions. The song, when it opens the play, is striking indeed. Aoife Duffin, who plays the role of Katherine, sings in a rough, desperate, and almost discordant style, admirably displaying the gravitas of the song. The song appears again after her absurd wedding with Petruchio, where the audience sees her despair at having been pawned off to such a man. At the end of the play, the song reveals her desperation for a relationship of equality with her husband.
The ending of Shrew can be a bit tricky. Is Katherine a broken woman, a defiant rebel, or a lovelorn wife after her “taming”? In the Globe production, Aoife Duffin incredibly manages to display all three of those possibilities in her final speech. Her speech begins as an assent to the demands of her husband. Then, as he is about to congratulate her (and claim the winnings of his bet with the other men), she continues, outdoing him in her eloquent “obedience.” She has the upper hand! But, as the speech carries on, it is clear that Katherine does not want to “win,” for how can both husband and wife be free if one of them is defeated by the other? She ends the speech by stripping down to her shift, kneeling on the stage, and singing her desire for equality. Visibly moved, Petruchio (played by Edward MacLiam), quickly kneels beside her and takes her hand. The rest of the characters then sing Katherine’s song with her, in a social affirmation of her desires. The result is moving, poignant, and exultant.
The first three acts of the play are fun-filled and hilarious. Katherine is wittily rebellious and uncouth, Bianca (played by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman) fakes tears in front of her father and secretly taunts her sister. The two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio (Colm Gormley and Raymond Keane) are ridiculous in their rivalry for the manipulative Bianca. Baptista (Gary Lilburn) is a self-serving, oblivious father. Delightful are the antics of Lucentio (Aaron Heffernan) and Tranio (Imogen Doel), whose interactions on stage are the highlight of the first three acts. Lucentio is more clownish than I would have thought, but he plays the lovesick fool incredibly well. He is such a delightful character that it is almost a shame that he ends up marrying the selfish Bianca.
The audience’s laughter is clearly more reluctant in the final two acts of the play. When Katherine and Petruchio first meet on stage, their conversation seems like a battle of wits. But, when he demands that she marry him, Petruchio takes her arm in what looks like a cruel grip. She is then visibly humiliated during the sham of a wedding, which turns into a cartoonish, violent affair. Then, when Petruchio brings her to his home and tames her, the treatment is rough in comparison to the lightheartedness of the first three acts. Petruchio is clearly reluctant to treat her so poorly, and he believes that he is “doing the right thing,” if I may be pardoned for the cliché, but his cruel treatment of her is difficult to watch. When he finally convinces her to yield to him and agree that day is night and an old man is a young woman, he kisses her deeply. The kiss is long and protracted, and Petruchio reaches to embrace her mid-kiss. Katherine does not similarly raise her arms, though, which makes their unity at the end of the play less believable than it might have otherwise been.
Another feature of this production of Shrew is the constant presence of the widow, played by Amy Conroy. She appears on stage, silent, sad, and even a bit confused, at quite a few moments in the first three acts. When she finally speaks, then, as the wife of Hortensio, her sauciness is a complete surprise. Where is that silent, black-clad woman? Of course, the widow, like Bianca, is putting on an act in order to “trick” a man into marriage, and once safely wed, her inner shrew appears. Her random wandering onto the stage, however, and her clear compassion for Katherine during Katherine’s wedding, is one of the less successful elements of the production.
All of the actors in the production are incredibly talented, and the play is a delight to watch and experience. In a play that could be a farce or a tragedy, Byrne has created a performance that is fun and funny, but no less weighty and important because of that.
Categories: Theater Reviews