Taming is one of the lesser known of Shakespeare’s comedies, often falling behind the likes of Twelfth Night and Much Ado. It is perhaps best-known as the basis of the 90’s teen rom-com Ten Things I Hate About You, starring the late Heath Ledger. It’s also labelled as a “problem play” as the plot is not outright comical, and has many issues.
Misogyny is the largest issue with the performance, and I was curious to see how artistic director Caroline Byrne would modernise this aspect of the play, if at all.
The setting of the performance was moved from Elizabethan England to 1916 Ireland. In an interview in the programme, Emma Rice says she chose this setting to not only commemorate one hundred years since the Easter Rising, but was also a time when women were fighting for equal rights to men, and this is something which is still continuing even today.
This meant that the entire cast was Irish (or had Irish accents), which created a homely, community feel, hearing the same accent throughout the piece. Irish music was used, and the musicians were wonderful, not only in their playing but their rapport and connection with the audience at the beginning of each act, playing up to and interacting with us.
The set itself was very bare and bleak, a stark contrast to, say, A Midsummer Night’s Dream also running at The Globe which is full of bright colours and lights. Pairs of boots are placed around the stage, later used as instruments to clap together. The walls and pillars are covered in black and other structures which come on to the stage at various points such as large stairs and some rocks with a broken bed on are very uniform also. There is something dark and foreboding about this performance, despite the gags.
And gags there were many. Of course this play is a comedy at heart (if that is at all possible where misogyny is involved) and it was very funny. Imogen Doel who played Tranio practically stole the show for me, scooting around the stage, delivering witty one liners and being incredibly endearing. Her sidekick, Molly Logan, was also very funny, and her interaction with one member of the audience – practically riding him like a horse at one point – has to be commended.
Edward MacLiam as Petruchio was dark and menacing, and there were plenty of nervous laughs when his relationship with Kat became abusive rather than just verbal arguments.
The role of Katherina, played by Aoife Duffin, was one which quite rightfully stood out. The insertions of her singing at key points in the show (bathing in blood at some points) was very poignant and X carried herself with great ease. Funny at first with her hissing and screaming, Duffin then, “tamed”, delivered her final speech in such a way that one could not take their eyes off of her. Every word was heard clearly and said with meaning, and gave the audience some food for thought.
Though the production quality was excellent and the show very entertaining, I didn’t leave the Yard laughing or smiling. Instead I was left in a very sombre mood, pondering the ideas given to me about Ireland, about marriage, and about gender equality. This is all very good and forward, I think. We need theatre which makes us think and question as well as entertain. We need performances which stay in our heads as easily as the slow clapping of boots fading as the cast left the stage.