The Globe Theatre in London has a long track record of facilitating and nurturing the love of Shakespeare as a complementary part of the UK school curriculum. In conjunction with Deutsche Bank, the Globe is currently running a production of the The Taming of the Shrew as part of their education programme. Some may wonder why the likes of Romeo and Juliet wasn’t chosen instead, given The Taming of the Shrew‘s reappraisal in the 21st century, and think is this what we want as children’s first introduction to Shakespeare? Well the Globe – especially now under Emma Rice’s guidance – has sought to make the Bard’s canon relevant to tomorrow’s audience and in today’s world of alt-facts and the ongoing debate about what is the ‘right’ behavour of women, The Taming of the Shrew has never been more relevant. Children don’t need to be hid from the uglyness of the world. But they just need perspective on the way things are versus the way they ought to be.
Directed by Jacqueline Defferary, the present production of The Taming of the Shrew has all the familar elements of the original tale – Christopher Sly’s preface, the pre-requesite conditions of Bianca’s hand in marriage and the wager made at the end. However, what is irrefutable is the actions that accompany the words in the play show without a doubt that Katherina is Petruchio’s (and every man’s) equal. This is a woman who ‘is difficult’, precisely because she is a ‘thing’ to be ‘bartered for’. One of the ‘little touches’ that I liked was the almost imperceptible friction between Bianca and Katherina – the one sister who relished being fawned over, and the other who valued her own independence and dignity. Being a young woman who stands up to family and peer pressure and is not afraid to assert her own identity, Katherina is a good, if unlikely, role model…
As Katherina, Gloria Onitiri is assured, elequent and physically resilient to ward off any advances, while Alex Gaumond as Petruchio – her would-be suitor – is no wallflower either, Kate’s mirror image. When they fall in love and the ‘taming’ takes place, it is something that happens to both of them – each happy to what the other requests rather than being ordered to. Inflection is everything…
I dare say that some purist academics won’t take this production, but that’s ok. In Shakespeare’s day, the audiences didn’t stand or sit in total silence. They let everyone on stage know if the play met their approval or if a particular speech or action resonated with them. Behind me, school children were shouting Katherina’s most famous speeches in unison with Onitiri on stage. The atmosphere was electric. The cast’s ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ – interacting with the audience, onstage and off – really brings home that theatre and Shakespeare especially, isn’t a time capsule to preserve. It is a living, breathing thing that feeds its audience and vice versa.
Watching this production, I was almost envious that this should be their first taste of experience the Bard’s work live, in a replica of the original Bankside theatre no less. It’s how it should be. A production like this sets the bar for other Shakespeare productions for them and engender a lifelong love affair with the theatre.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Taming of the Shrew runs at the Globe until 15th March 2017