Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” might be done as a comedy rather than as a farce; but that would be very hard to pull off. After all, Petruchio is sadistic in his taming techniques. And if we consider Katherina as a sentient human being, this play can be painful. Also a modern audience’s attitude toward the husband-is-master axiom is not that of the 1590s. So farce is the way to go.
And that is the course taken at Shakespeare’s Globe production in London in 2012, now available on a Kultur 2-DVD set. Here Simon Paisley Day plays a tall, unsexy shrew-tamer to Samantha Spiro’s unwilling bride. Using an unabridged script, they decided to introduce a drunk “from the audience” to play Christopher Sly, who is gulled into thinking he is a noble lord. This gimmick doesn’t work, because the drunk wakes up to speak Elizabethan English for no discernible reason.
As I found Spiro to be the worst professional Lady Macbeth ever in the Globe production—or parody—of that play, I find her Katherina to be too one-dimensional up to the scene in which she realizes what Petruchio is up to. Then she gets some non-shouting comedy into her characterization. The famous/infamous speech at the end about women being wholly subservient to their husbands is done straight without any winks to the audience or any other suggestion of irony. The audience is deadly silent during the lines and applauds her reading, if not the sentiments.
Sarah Macrae shows Bianca to be the real shrew early in the play and a really nasty piece of goods at the end when the three newlywed husbands bet on their wives’ obedience. (You do know the plot, don’t’ you?)
I really like how Pearce Quigley plays Petruchio’s much abused servant Grumio. He reminds me of Baldrick in the “Black Adder” series, and is given that horse-hoof clapping gimmick from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to make up for lack of that animal on stage. It is not, however, necessary for Day to show his bare bottom to cast and audience when he shows up for the wedding. (The idea is stolen, I think, from a live Monty Python performance in which the entire male cast moons the audience. Very funny.)
The costumes are colorful, the pacing fast but with little loss of comprehensibility. And if it is too much to expect Kultur to include the subtitles that are on the British DVDs (on the OpusArte label), one can always keep an open text on one’s lap. I do so enjoy the productions’ keeping the Shakespearean tradition of a dance before and during the final bows.
The running time is 167 minutes and there is no cast or tracking lists provided.