Andrew Leung's Petruchio wearing a silly costume

The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe is absurdly funny until it isn’t

One of my favourite things about The Globe is its consistently interesting set design, something that grabbed my attention immediately when I sat down for The Taming of the Shrew.

The absurdist humour that the play, a thoroughly modern take on one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, displays is clear even before the actors have even stepped on stage.

With trampolines and sofas surrounding a humongous teddy bear, the whole set is designed like a young child’s playpen.

The costume design is also fantastic and creative, with some actors wearing giant heads on their chests and others carrying around puppets.

While some of this is played deliberately for laughs, as The Taming of the Shrew is and has always been primarily a comedy, it’s clear that thought has gone into how the costuming fits into the main themes.

The Taming of the Shrew is about just that, the taming of a shrew. The “shrew” in this case being Katharina (Thalissa Teixeira), the eldest daughter of a wealthy merchant.

Katharina has failed to marry, as a result of having a strong-willed personality and her younger sister has been forbidden from marrying until Katharina has a suitor.

So, her sister’s suitors scheme to find someone willing to marry Katharina for money and what follows is a powerful exploration of domestic abuse, as Katharina is browbeaten into becoming the perfect wife.

There’s a scene early on in the play that perfectly summarises the juxtaposition at the heart of what’s going on.

The aforementioned abusive husband Petruchio (a chillingly good Andrew Leung) is teasingly hitting his beloved servant Grumio (Eloise Secker who is a highlight of the cast) with a foam bat.

Grumio has strapped pillows to his chest and the two bounce off each other well, until they don’t. It’s all fun and games until it isn’t. The audience is invited to laugh as Petruchio whacks his servant again and again.

And then he keeps going, long after the laughter has stopped and the audience is given that slow, painful realisation that what they’re watching isn’t funny at all.

It’s a good metaphor for the play as a whole, which only works because the designed jokes get the laughs they desire.

It’s in the play’s third act, as the horror slowly descends and the laughs dry up, that the play manages to ramp up and you could cut the tension with a knife.

Whilst the play obviously paints Petruchio as the villain (at least in this modern retelling), it also asks serious questions of Katharina’s father and sister, who gleefully ignore her protestations and hand her over to her abuser.

And of course, it asks questions of the audience who have been cheerfully laughing along.

Ultimately, The Taming of the Shrew isn’t a masterpiece, as the metaphors are a bit too muddled and there is one (albeit impactful) plot point in the third act where I feel I lost what was going on.

It’s also not quite as funny as the more charming Much Ado About Nothing, which does slightly undermine the third act pivot.

However, it has a lot going on under the bonnet and The Taming of the Shrew certainly left me thinking and feeling, which is ultimately what good theatre should do.

As such, it comes highly recommended and you can pick up tickets here.

Featured image credit: Ellie Kurttz

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