The Taming of the Shrew is one of the more difficult Shakespeare plays: its inherent sexism makes it tricky to stage without seeming to support the dodgy attitudes, but at the same time the productions that are shown tend to be thoughtful and interesting. Caroline Byrne’s new production for the Globe is no exception: set in 1916 Ireland at the time of the Rising, a time when the call for a free Ireland did not automatically mean equality for women. Shakespeare’s words are occasionally interjected with Irish phrases, and we are treated to Irish poems by Yeats too, hauntingly sung. I wish even more had been made of the Irish setting, but I did like the random interjections and snatches of Gaelic.
As Katherine, Aoife Duffin is passionate and appealing, although just once I would like to see a Katherine who is perfectly ordinary rather than a caricature of a sixteenth century “ladette”. Her initial scene with Petruchio (Edward MacLiam) is touching, and more than any other production made me reflect that the pair’s initial sparring was probably quite refreshing to her. This makes the emotional abuse of the second half of the play particularly galling, though it really brought home how well Shakespeare was able to portray an abusive relationship. I noticed that in this production the Prologue was not included: I can understand that, as it would have jarred with the serious beginning, but it does take away my own view of the Prologue as Shakespeare distancing himself from the rest of the play.
I liked that there were more women taking on roles in the play, and impressed with the longer stage presence of the widow. Even if I can hardly stick to my dream that the final scene is nothing more than a plot cooked up by Katherine and Petruchio to freak everyone out, I found this an interesting production.