- The Taming of The Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Caroline Byrne
Dramaturg, lyricist – Morna Regan
Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Friday 20th May 2016, 19.30
Amy Conroy – Widow/Haberdasher
Louis Dempsey – Vincentio
Imogen Doel – Tranio
Sean Fox – Ensemble
Colm Gormley – Hortensio
Aaron Heffernan – Lucentio
Genevieve Hulme-Beama – Katherine (understudy)
Raymond Keane – Gremio
Gary Lilburn – Baptista
Molly Logan – Biondello
Edward MacLiam – Petruchio
Helen Norton – Grumio
(Kathy Rose O’Brien – INDISPOSED)
Ayoola Smart- Bianca (understudy)
In future performances Aiofe Duffin will take over Katherine
Mark Bousie – MD, accordion
Loic Bljean – Uillean pipes
Una Palliser – violin, voice
Tad Sargent – Bodhran, bouzouki
(one was playing guitar too, uncredited
This plays with an all-Irish company, marking the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916, and remembering women’s role in the independence struggle. It moves towards a 50 / 50 gender split, though cannot achieve it. Hence it requires a dramaturg, or adaptor. Emma Rice’s regime as artistic director of the Globe thus features two plays with modern dress and gender switches. Nothing wrong with either at the National or RSC, but I do think it undermines the raison d’etre of The Globe, which is why so many people flock from all corners of the Globe to experience a play there. One novel one plus one traditional, fine. With Midsummer Night’s Dream playing alongside it, that’s two novel ones on at the same time though. If, as many people do, you’ve planned a Globe visit as part of your British vacation, you will almost certainly want to see one Renaissance costumed play.
You have to consider imposed concepts. Take the 2012 RSC production of The Taming Of The Shrew. That was set in a Cinema Paradiso style small Italian town in the late 1940s. Good fit, because the original is set in a small Italian town. The Easter Rising is a concept, but is The Taming of The Shrew really about a national independence struggle and taking over the central post office? I also wonder about The Globe’s policy of moving to a 50/50 gender split in future. Yes, impose that on the National or the Old Vic and then choose the plays to fit. But Sam Wanamaker built The Globe to play Shakespeare, and unfortunately the originals have 3 to 5 women in a cast of 20 to 24. Quite often, it doesn’t matter in minor parts, and that’s the way they boost it here.
In fact it had nothing to do with the Easter Rising, it was simply “Irish early 20 th century” though the programme notes make it clear that it was based on the promises of female equality in the Irish independence struggle, that is the promises that were never kept. I was glad that no extraneous story had been imposed. Irish accents were fine … I like an accent concept rather than a mix of various accents for no reason. Irishisms like crossing yourself all added.
This was the official opening night, as announced by director Caroline Byrne before the play. She explained that two understudies were on stage. Genevieve Hulme-Beaman had moved from Bianca to Katherine, and Ayoola Smart had moved from ensemble to Bianca. Also as Katherine had several songs in the play, these would be sung by Una Palliser (violin /voice in the band).
Though it was the opening night officially, it was the 8th performance, and I had seen on line that the understudies would be reading in the parts back on the 13th and 14th May. I don’t know if they have done all the performances since, but I’d guess so. Genevieve knew all the lines in the first part without reading, as did Ayoola throughout. Genevieve at my estimate was 90% there on the second part, though she carried a discreet prompt sheet, but only noticeably used it much in the final speech. If they carry on understudying, I’d guess she’d have the whole thing in a couple more performances. There is so much physical action to get right (and she did) that I’d guess extra rehearsals mentioned by Caroline Byrne had focussed on that. Naturally in the first part she was in scenes with Bianca so would have been in all the original rehearsals. The second part in Petruchio’s house would have been a different rehearsal session.
She was a superb natural Katherine too. She’s small and feisty (which is ideal with a lanky Petruchio towering over her), and she gets the facial expressions perfectly. She would have been ideal casting in the first place, and it’ll be annoying if the online photos miss her Katherine. (ADDED: And indeed they do. I see that Aiofe Duffin will be taking over the role, and Genevieve will be reverting to Bianca, presumably because they need a “lead” singer in the Katharine role. I don’t want to illustrate what I didn’t see and Genevieve is not in the Katherine picture online). I’ll compensate with a picture of Genevieve back in the role of Bianca, with Tranio. After all, it’s what you’ll see for the rest of the season.
Tranio (Imogen Doel) and Bianca (now Genevieve Hulme-Beaman)
At the end, with massive applause (Caroline Byrne had said it was friends and family night too), Edward MacLiam, as Petruchio, took Genevieve and Ayoola and pushed them to the front for thoroughly deserved ecstatic applause. The final ensemble song was new words, but to the beautiful tune of “The Parting Glass”. I also noticed that Ayoola, normally in the ensemble was the most vigorous lead dancer, probably the normal role.
The stage before the show: The shoes and boots are put on at the start, removed at the end
The set was completely covered with matt black, like a chalkboard, as were the Globe columns, so obscuring the basic theatre background. The new Globe regime with added lighting plot also used large steps to fill in the back centre up to the balcony at times, so “a set.” Blue light and a kind of slow-motion was used at the start of the wedding scene, but it wasn’t actually a strobe as far as I could see, or if it was, it wasn’t working properly – you have to set the speed to get the effect. They also narrowed lighting down to the main actor towards the end, something they can’t do in the afternoon shows or in part one of evening shows., which does make me think “why do it?” and as regular readers know, I always notice and admire good lighting, which it was.
The entire “Christopher Sly” frame story was cut, as it can be. Instead they opened and closed with a song. Normally it would be Katherine, therefore making a time jump from 2016 to 1916 at the start and back at the end, but that was lost because Una sang it. Still, it worked as opening and closing with a song. Casting the servants as female was seamless, in that Imogen Doel as a sparky, small Tranio (servant to Lucentio) and Helen Norton as a lugubrious Grumio (servant to Petruchio) were both very funny.
Edward MacLiam (in brown coat) as Petruchio,
The programme notes Joe Dieffenbacher as “Physical comedy director” and lists his circus and spectacle experience. Physical comedy is strong, funny and novel throughout, with even the older actors, the father and the suitors, doing some surprising acrobatic stuff. This of course works a treat in the Globe, and more and more you see The Globe bringing out the physical and spectacle … and perhaps the Wanamaker Playhouse productions focussing on the text.
Hortensio (Colm Gormley pretends to be a music teacher and gets a violin full!
It’s a fast lively production, and cut short for Shakespeare too. Stand out comedy? Katherine and Bianca, joined by a rope, making their father skip over it was one. Petruchio washing in a bowl with detailed attention to private parts and back passage was another, but throughout physical comedy direction was great, and there was lots of carrying people – unbelievably when Tranio carried a Lucentio twice her size.
Tramio (Imogen Doel)
Props were good … they wheeled on a giant abacus, globe and skeleton for the schoolroom. The tailor’s dummy on wheels at Petruchio’s house was another good addition. We loved Lucentio’s efforts to balance a pile of books throughout, and laughed even more when he eventually reveals the trick.
Lucentio (Aaron Heffernan)
Block N of the lower gallery, as we have noticed before makes it hard to hear some dialogue projected to the other side, and from the back row it’s also very hard to see action on the balcony. Mental note to avoid it next year.
Music, all Irish, was outstanding.
All that talk of the Easter Rising in publicity gave me doubts about its fidelity, but it was another excellent Globe production. I guess Northern Broadsides “The Merry Wives” had meant two Shakespeare in Peaky Blinders costumes in a week, though this one had a circus / comedy edge. In fact, lofty Lucentio and tiny Tranio changing jackets was another great physical comedy moment.
Hortensio and Petruchio
Incidentally, I usually take a copy of the play in question with me on my theatre travels. Recently, I’ve started picking up 1960s Folio Society editions in charity shops. These were bought by poor punters at the time as investments at high prices, but nowadays go for £3 to £4, or less. The joy is the absence of any notes on the page, and large clear text with character names separated in colour. The introductions, from a pre-Peter Brooks mindset can be a hoot.
Robert Atkins introduces The Taming of The Shrew, basically by listing everything negative anyone had ever said about the play. It’s the sort of thing where one might question oneself and say, ‘Am I the best person to write this intro?’
Mr Atkins says:
In production a director should be guided by Shakespeare’s text and avoid the modern method of fantastication, movements a la ballet, and the introduction of vulgar and boisterous stage business, for this peppering-up method, so beloved by many of the modern directors of the Shakespeare plays hampers the actors in the delivery of the play to the audience. (1960)
Mr Atkins probably thought it best just to read it aloud. He notes a 1904 production as significant. He would have hated this one. We both enjoyed it. Later reviews focus on Aoife Duffin, who we didn’t see.
On the excellent understudies, I do wonder why they were reading early on. When we saw an understudy Titania (Laura Harding) at the RSC, very early in the run of Midsummer Night’s Dream, she knew the part perfectly. An actor told me you can fall into problems understudying the lead, because you’re sure there’s no way the lead’s ego will allow illness before press night, so you reckon you have seven days to learn it … partly by watching the lead. Here of course, they had an accident and right at the start, so no chance to watch the lead for a few days. But I am surprised the understudies for such a major production had to read. They don’t at the RSC, but that means extensive understudy rehearsals (and at the RSC they do an “understudy performance” at reduced price too).
I think that means a star off the general later four star reviews.
The Taming Of The Shrew, RSC, 2012
The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Adrian Noble (Cecily)