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The Taming of the Shrew, Globe on Tour: Old Schools Quadrangle, Bodleian Library
Olivia Morgan and Kate Lamb as Bianca and Katherina Picture: Helena Miscioscia
An invitation to outdoor Shakespeare can sometimes seem more threatening than alluring. But what a difference ten degrees can make . . .
Could anything be more agreeable than to sit on a warm summer night amid the mellow stone of the Bodleian Library’s Old Schools Quadrangle — whose construction began even as the Bard still lived — for this master dramatist’s witty take on the sex war?
Back in Oxford for the sixth year, Globe Theatre on Tour offers a highly entertaining revival of Shakespeare’s early comedy The Taming of the Shrew, with the many parts shared between a cast of just eight. That every one is a woman must be assumed to add an extra dimension to the production, at least in the mind of its director Joe Murphy.
But does it? The streak of misogyny — rather, let us say, the celebration of male supremacy — that so many have complained of in the play hardly becomes more acceptable on a stage from which men are absent.
Katherina and Petruchio Picture: Helena Miscioscia
This is a story which, taken at face value, is not so much concerned with the taming of headstrong Katherina (splendidly played by Kate Lamb) as with the cruel breaking of her will by a dominating husband, Petruchio, portrayed in swashbuckling style by Leah Whitaker (who looks, in 1970s garb, strangely like Michael Jackson).
True, some critics have seen her infamous closing speech not as the craven declaration of submission that it appears to be but as subtle advice for the women to whom it is addressed on how to rule while pretending to obey. In this reading of the play, Petruchio — himself tamed — is happy to go along with the pretence.
Oddly, this never seems to be the case in performances of Shrew, this one included. Petruchio looks every bit as embarrassed by her utterances as her listeners, audience included.
Up till then, the production has proceeded with all the barnstorming panache — rollicking music included — for which the Globe is known. The doubling, even tripling, of roles offers a chance for members of the cast to show astonishing versatility (while giving no impression that often these are women playing men). Kathryn Hunt, for instance, switches easily from the rough drolleries of Petruchio’s old servant Grumio to the tetchy snobbery and grasping greed of Kate’s father Baptista. Olivia Morgan, meanwhile, offers a pair of servants (including a Biondello with a nice Irish lilt) while demonstrating that Kate has no monopoly on wilfulness as her sister Bianca, for whom the term ‘flighty minx’ might have been coined.
There is much to enjoy, as usual in the confusing capers involving her trio of suitors, Hortensio (Nicola Sangster), Gremio (Joy Richardson) and Lucentio (Becci Gemmell) and the last’s servant stand-in Tranio (Remy Beasley). Ms Richardson is also a hoot as Lucentio’s comically moustached dad and the merry widow (audibly West Indian) who teams up with Hortensio.
Until July 21
Tickets: 01865 305305 or oxfordplayhouse.com