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The Taming of the Shrew review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘an intelligent reframing’

Edward MacLiam and Aoife Duffin in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Marc Brenner

It begins with a ballad. Aoife Duffin’s Katherine enters singing a song of liberation and its lyrics echo through Caroline Byrne’s take on The Taming of the Shrew, set in Ireland in 1916, at the time of the Easter Rising.

While it’s possible to appreciate the thinking behind that choice, it doesn’t always make for a satisfying production, but it is a stimulating and timely one.

Shrew is such a difficult, prickly play and Byrne doesn’t shy away from that, the opposite is true in fact. The desperation of Katherine in the second half is painful to watch, as it should be, but it’s almost too raw. It makes the production feel lopsided.

Duffin – stepping into the role at short notice following the injury of the original performer – is captivating throughout, fiery and smart. Her frustration is palpable, her despair equally so. For all his roguish charm, Edward MacLiam’s Petruchio is a brute, breaking his new wife like a colt.

The Globe’s distinctive pillars have been boxed in by designer Chiara Stephenson, its colours muted, and there is a shallow pool of water at the front of the stage into which Katherine wades, barefooted and forlorn. There are some very effective movement sequences – Duffin is imprisoned in her hoop skirts and made a human maypole, tugged from one side of the stage to other. As in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is some interesting cross-gender casting; as the second production in her inaugural season, it makes a statement. It’s a troubling production, but in the best way.

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Intelligent reframing of one of Shakespeare’s least palatable plays