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The Taming of the Shrew review at Delacorte Theatre, New York – ‘ferocious intelligence’

Janet McTeer and Cush Jumbo in The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte Theater, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus.
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British director Phyllida Lloyd’s remarkable all-female Shakespeare project began at the Donmar Warehouse in 2012 with Julius Caesar and was followed by Henry IV in 2014. Both of those will be revived, along with a new production of The Tempest, later this year in a new temporary venue at King’s Cross.

Now, thrillingly, Lloyd has exported the idea to create a brand-new, spirited and frequently fun production of The Taming of the Shrew in New York.

Fun isn’t always a term applied too readily to this troubling problem play about a forced marriage, and the physical and mental abuse that eventually succeeds in subduing the recalcitrant woman, but in Lloyd’s hands – reunited with British actor Cush Jumbo (Mark Antony in Julius Caesar) – Kate is such a spirited, feisty presence, with bullying issues of her own with her sister Bianca, that it smooths away some of those concerns.

A carnivalesque atmosphere is established from the start, as if the play is taking place as part of some weird beauty contest. Mark Thompson’s circus ring of a set, complete with life-size travelling caravans and a motorhome, amplifies the sense of playfulness.

The formidable Janet McTeer, strutting about the stage in a leather jacket with a skull portrait on the back of it, has a grungy look and Irish-tinged accent; she’s very convincingly male. But the show is also full of its own self-referential digs at what it is doing, including a character who moans about how inappropriate it is that the play is being directed by a woman.

Lloyd’s direction softens and deepens it, too. It lets us look at the play afresh from a female perspective – and the production generates a distinct chill beneath the surface frivolity.

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All-female take on Shakespeare's battle of the sexes comedy performed with ferocious intelligence