In the latest in our series of Young Critics reviews, Pierce McNee from Dundalk Youth Theatre traveled to London to see The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Cast: Aoife Duffin, Amy Conroy, Louis Dempsey, Imogen Doel, Colm Gormley, Aaron Heffernan, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, Raymond Keane, Gary Lilburn, Edward MacLiam and Helen Norton
Performed at Shakespeare’s Globe; reviewed on Monday, 18th July 2016
Set against the backdrop of Dublin 1916, this is a classic play with an alternative twist, featuring an all-Irish cast. This choice of setting — one hundred years after the events that sparked Ireland’s drive towards independence — makes the staging of this production extremely significant. Katherine (Aoife Duffin) appears on the stage at the start of play and sings, passionately, an Irish ballad written by Morna Regan (dramaturg and lyricist) especially for the production. This firmly establishes the 1916 setting and showcases Duffin as a standout performer and a force to be reckoned with.
The Taming of the Shrew tells the story of two sisters, Katherine and Bianca. Bianca is intensely keen on being married off to a handsome suitor. Katherine has no ambitions to become attached to a man. There is one problem: Bianca cannot marry before Katherine, a.k.a. the shrew, is herself paired off.
Going in, I was rather sceptical as to whether or not the production would cater for only an Irish audience, but it does not overly enforce the 1916 theme, which only becomes apparent on a few occasions. For example, a small fraction of the history is played out in the lyrics of Katherine’s two ballads. This make the theme subtly present throughout the performance but the production is kept grounded overall in the original story.
Caroline Byrne’s production is full of side-splitting antics whilst still exposing the serious and sometimes poignant aspects of the play. The misogynistic elements are portrayed with the earnest tone they deserve. The comedic facet is aided in particular by Aaron Heffernan as Lucentio, with his incredible physical comedy and natural wittiness.
Other notable performances include Edward MacLiam as Petruchio, who offers a truly gritty portrayal of the character. He brings an amazing sense of tension with Katherine and this really keeps the audience on the edge of their seats for the intense scenes between them. Helen Norton as Grumio plays her character with great jocularity but also sincerity in the more sombre scenes.
The set, designed by Chiara Stephenson, starts with the traditional Globe stage design with its balcony and pillars. A large black structure is built into the opening at the upstage centre of the stage. This opens up at various points to reveal a staircase. At certain moments during the first half, the stage becomes a 1916 classroom as a prodigious abacus and an anatomical skeleton hurtle onto the stage. A pit of dirty water also appears at the downstage centre of the stage in which Katherine stands while singing one of her ballads.
The costumes, also in Stephenson’s more than capable hands, are eminently satisfactory and greatly fitting to the production. Many of the costumes are 1916-inspired with the women’s pieces heavily influenced by the Gibson Girl look. This also introduces the theme of women’s rights one hundred years ago and also in today’s society. The final speech, delivered by Katherine, allows us to reflect on how much has changed in terms of women’s rights since 1916, when women were so poorly treated.
Pierce is an NAYD Young Critic for 2016 and a member of Dundalk Youth Theatre in Co. Louth.