The Taming of the Amazon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Globe, 7 June 2013

Two invented sequences preceded the main action. In the first, two couples moved rhythmically around each other; Theseus with Titania and Oberon with Hippolyta. The doubling of these roles meant that two of them were played here by other actors in masks.

This was followed by a representation of the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons. Hippolyta’s archers lined up on one side of the stage, faced by Theseus’s men on the other. The Amazons were defeated one by one, leaving Hippolyta to be taken an unwilling prisoner by Theseus. The Athenian conqueror confiscated her belt as a token of his victory.

This sequence merged seamlessly into 1.1 as Theseus (John Light) and Hippolyta (Michelle Terry), wearing standard Globe Renaissance costume, spoke of their impending wedding. The elision of her seizure with the wedding preparations brought a freshness to Hippolyta’s still vivid resentment of her capture, which informed her grudging acknowledgement of their nuptial.

Candelabra hung low over the stage and three oil paintings of noblemen stood on the upper gallery to indicate the court setting.

Theseus reminded Hippolyta that he had “woo’d thee with my sword, and won thy love, doing thee injuries”, which had been seen moments before, as he shook the stolen token at her. He grasped Hippolyta on the back of the neck as he spoke, a gesture redolent of possession and control rather than affection.

The added prologue focussed attention on Hippolyta and made the ensuing action a subplot to her story, which was the starting point of the play’s narrative.

The entry of Egeus (Edward Peel), Hermia (Olivia Ross), Lysander (Luke Thompson), Helena (Sarah MacRae), and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) and the exposition of the tangled affections of the four lovers appeared a secondary consideration.

Given her situation, dark-haired Hermia was suitably earnest, which contrasted with Lysander’s cocky confidence.

Theseus applied the same forcefulness in support of Egeus’s control over his daughter Hermia’s affections as he had employed in his conquest of Hippolyta. Telling women what to do was something he found natural. He therefore insisted that Hermia wed Demetrius and not her true love Lysander.

Just as Lysander pointed out that Demetrius had first wooed Helena, the tall blonde in question became distressed and ran off.

Theseus resolutely told Hermia that failure to marry Demetrius would mean either her death or a cloistered life.

Hippolyta had remained silent all this time, but her supercilious looks gave no doubt that she was unimpressed. Nevertheless she could not let matters pass without making her own wry comment upon them.

As everyone but Lysander and Hermia left the stage, Hippolyta moved silently to Hermia and made a cross on her forehead with her index finger, either marking her for death or for a religious life, in either case signalling that Hermia should not submit to Egeus and Theseus. This was more evidence of her continued resistance to Theseus’s will. Hippolyta’s silent conclusion to the lovers’ first scene restored focus on her once again.

The rhetorical neatness of Hermia and Lysander’s exchange about the various ways in which “the course of true love never did run smooth” was enhanced by Hermia positioning herself on the triangular promontory at the stage front to give her replies more force. The pair arranged to flee Athens for the forest.

The comic stichomythia of Helena and Hermia’s mirrored complaints about Demetrius loving one of them but not the other, appeared even more light and fluffy for taking place against the dark backdrop of the performance’s opening. Helena said that she would tell Demetrius of her friends’ flight.

The mechanicals clog danced their way onto the stage and continued to dance a highly entertaining clog routine (1.2). Bottom (Pearce Quigley) arrived late with an extra-textual apology “Sorry, my cock-a-doodle didn’t”. Pearce Quigley’s trademark laconic delivery worked its magic in transforming Bottom’s usual bombast into vacant understatement.

He repeatedly faltered over Quince’s name “First, good Peter… Peter?… Peter Quince…” a seemingly deliberate absentmindedness that showed his disdain for the company’s manager.

Bottom was delighted that he would be playing the gallant lover Pyramus. His conditional “if I do it…” was followed by an extra-textual “I’ll do it”, as he launched into his “raging rocks” speech. He congratulated himself on his performance “This was lofty!” in a subdued style that was all the funnier for its quiet restraint.

Flute (Christopher Logan) was not happy at playing Thisbe, a fact that Bottom seized on to insist on playing the part “in a monstrous little voice”. It was apt that Pearce’s standard vocal style, also employed here for Thisbe, was monstrously little.

Parts were allocated, with the Lion being allocated to the very tall Snug (Edward Peel again). Bottom insisted on playing the Lion as well, but Quince (Fergal McElherron) put his foot down and told Bottom in no uncertain terms that he could “play no part but Pyramus”.

Bottom reacted by storming away in the middle of this speech, the others following him out the stage right exit. He briefly appeared in the tiring house doorway, suitcase in hand, as if definitively departing, before returning again through the stage left entrance to concede “Well, I will undertake it”.

Bottom pondered what beard he should wear. The two mentions of “French” with reference to the “French-crown-colour beard” were accompanied by the entire mechanical crew spitting. This felt uncalled for in a play that does not deal in such nationalistic sentiment.

The stage was transformed into the forest as curtains patterned with trees were drawn across the back of the tiring house, while the paintings in the upper gallery were turned round to show their leafy backings.

Real tree branches were brought out of the trap and placed near the stage pillars, and the candelabra that had denoted the interior scenes were raised upwards. A forest creature was chased screaming down the trap, evidencing the wildness of the location.

Feathers

Puck (Matthew Tennyson), a young thin bare-chested figure with feathers sprouting from either side of his head, greeted the Fairy (Fergal McElherron again), resplendent in an animal head mask, for the expositional dialogue setting out Titania and Oberon’s dispute over the changeling (2.1).

The bare-chested, manly Oberon (John Light again) confronted jungle woman Titania (Michelle Terry again), a picture of natural wildness in her green tasselled dress and long tresses of hair. She was backed on either side by her followers who wore animal heads, including one apt donkey head.

The couple traded barbed references to their respective affairs with their mortal counterparts, Theseus and Hippolyta, which had been portrayed at the outset and of which we were now reminded.

Dismissing Oberon’s concerns as “the forgeries of jealousy”, Titania countered “with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport”, setting out the trail of environmental damage caused by their dissension.

Oberon was in his own way as peremptory as Theseus, but Hippolyta was his match and refused to hand over the changeling.

Oberon promised to revenge himself and summoned Puck. As he began to describe where Cupid’s arrow had fallen, transforming a flower into the purple “love-in-idleness”, he lifted Puck by placing one arm between his legs and hoisted him upwards so that he could get a better view of the location.

Puck went to “put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes” stretching his arms out and leaning from side to side as a warm up for that exertion.

Oberon made himself invisible to observe Demetrius and Helena. She dogged Demetrius, insisting that she was his spaniel. Oberon became fascinated by Helena’s blonde hair, standing behind her and playing with it, then ascending the stage left pillar to sniff at it once again as she passed.

Oberon watched the quarrelling mortals depart and promised Helena “thou shalt fly him and he shall seek thy love”.

Puck returned with the flower and gestured as if throwing it to Oberon, who in turn appeared to catch it, opening his hand to reveal the bloom. But this was all sleight of hand: nothing was actually thrown. It was appropriate that the inhabitants of this magic fairy world should be fooling the audience with a simple conjuring trick.

Oberon said he would charm Titania’s eyes with the juice of the flower and instructed Puck to do the same to the Athenian-garmented lover.

Titania appeared with her fairy followers and ordered them to “sing me now to sleep”. As they surrounded her and sang, she gradually fell under their spell. She was carried aloft and then reclined onto a fairy’s back to be carried to her flowery bower. This was a grass bed positioned upright against the tiring house stage right. She fell against it and reclined as if asleep on the ground. She remained visible on her bower, changing sleeping position occasionally until her subsequent awakening.

Oberon appeared above on the tiring house gallery to drop juice into her eyes so that she would fall in love with the first creature she saw on waking. He made a gruff, grunting sound, similar to the word ‘open’ that had the effect of opening Titania’s eyes.

Hermia and Lysander settled down for the night, Hermia insisting that Lysander bed down on the opposite side of the stage to her, so that they were separated when Puck appeared. He juiced Lysander’s eyes, also employing a gruff sound to charm them open, and retreated as Demetrius and Helena approached.

Helena gave up her pursuit of Demetrius and proceeded to wake Lysander, who instantly fell in love with her. Lysander’s rejection of Hermia was as comical as his new-found love for Helena. He broke off from his avowal of love to growl “Where is Demetrius?” and glancing contemptuously at the still-sleeping Hermia, dramatically repented “the tedious minutes I with her have spent”.

Hermia awoke from her bad dream in which a serpent had eaten her heart to find Lysander gone.

The mechanicals entered through the yard and clog danced their way on stage again to rehearse their play (3.1). There was something thrilling about Peter Quince pointing at the tree-patterned curtain in front of the tiring house and announcing “this hawthorn-brake our tiring house”.

Bottom insisted on a prologue to dispel audience fears that anyone might come to harm in their play, giving Pearce Quigley more opportunities to deploy his funny sparse style. Quince wanted the prologue “written in eight and six”, which Bottom demanded should have “two more; let it be written in eight and…. two more” comically pausing until completing his mental arithmetic.

Insisting that the actor behind the lion also introduce himself, Bottom mimed how Snug should speak through the neck of the lion costume to calm the fears of the “fair ladies”.

Yet again, Bottom paused before saying the other’s names because he was not sure who they were.

Bottom also suggested that the wall should be presented by someone encased in plaster, adding “and let him hold his fingers thus…” as he made a downward V with his fingers. He placed the same fingers over his mouth to show how Pyramus and Thisbe should speak through the chink, and thereby formed an obscene gesture.

Puck appeared on the tiring house balcony to observe the “hempen home-spuns”. Bottom exited leaving Flute to wander the stage stiffly as Thisbe. Bottom caused great consternation when he re-entered with an ass’s head, a tail, and hoof fringes on his feet and hands.

Puck’s fairy helpers crossed branches over the exits to prevent the other mechanicals from fleeing, trapping them on the stage so that Puck could then torment them.

Bottom wandered up and down singing, a noise that raised Titania from her flowery bed. She came forward from her upright bower, asking Bottom to sing again. He looked at her, glanced behind him as if she might have been addressing someone else, then pointed at himself as if to say ‘you mean me?’

Titania sought to convince him of her serious intent with her next couplet, giving an erotic immediacy to “So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape” in case he did not realise she was attracted to him physically.

It took time for Bottom to get used to Titania’s interest in him. Her slight reticence and appreciation of his uncertainty made the sequence all the more convincing. She discovered his long tail and caressed it lovingly, a gesture that offered only the merest hint of a sexual subtext.

Titania responded emphatically to Bottom’s suggestion that he wanted to leave, insisting “Out of this wood do not desire to go”.

She summoned her fairies, who appeared in the upper audience galleries and suspended inverted fabric pyramid shapes from rods. These were then released and descended gracefully to be caught in nets down in the yard. This was an original way of creating a magical atmosphere.

The fairies crowded round Bottom and fondled him lasciviously as they introduced themselves. Titania retired to her bower and once stood there invited Bottom to join her. Bottom looked at her, took off his waistcoat with a decisive flourish, hung it on the antler of fairy, and leant in next to her, gesturing that the curtain representing the forest be drawn over them for privacy.

Donkey

Oberon wondered out loud what had become of Titania (3.2). On hearing Puck’s account of how she had fallen for a donkey, he swung round a stage pillar on a rope, ran towards Puck and kissed him forcefully, bending him towards the ground.

Demetrius and Hermia entered through the yard, giving time for Oberon and Puck to hide from them.

Confirmation that Oberon’s plan had gone wrong came when Hermia angrily accused Demetrius of having killed Lysander, the only explanation she could envisage to explain her lover’s absence. Hermia ran off and Demetrius slept on the ground.

As the full scale of foul up became apparent, Puck tried to slink away until Oberon’s accusatory “What hast thou done?” stopped him. But when Puck pointed out that he had, as instructed, juiced the eyes of a man in Athenian garments, Oberon muttered “Oh yeah” to concede that Puck had a point.

Oberon sent him to find Helena. Puck was foppishly vague when insisting “I go, I go, look how I go!” Oberon juiced Demetrius’s eyes hoping that he would be found by his true love.

Helena returned with Lysander, complaining that he was mocking her. By now the clothes of all the lovers had been reduced to the dirty tatters of their undergarments.

Demetrius awoke with a start and performed a perfect backflip before professing his love for Helena. The audience responded to this athletic feat with applause, causing Lysander to turn to them and gesture at them to cool it. This was perfectly in character, as Lysander continued to respond to his new rival for Helena by disparaging everything he did.

Oberon seemed not to be content with this turn for the better and blew some sort of magic force at Helena that inspired her to see mocking conspiracy in the sudden turnaround “… you all are bent to set against me for your merriment”.

Hermia appeared through a gap in the curtain representing the wood, summoned by the sound of Lysander’s voice. Both Lysander and Demetrius had crammed so close to Helena that it appeared that both were ravishing her simultaneously.

Hermia asked Lysander why he had abandoned her, which was enough to make Helena think that Hermia was in on the joke too.

Hermia climbed onto Lysander’s back until he shook her off. He became unexpectedly violent, slapping Hermia in the face as he spurned the “tawny Tartar”. The audience responded to this attack with concern.

However, this violence was directly contradicted by his statement a few lines later, when he said “Although I hate her, I’ll not harm her so”. But he had just hit her.

Hermia rounded on Helena, who in turn insulted Hermia by calling her a “puppet”. Hermia tried to scratch at Helena and was held back by the two men. The four grouped themselves into a tight knot with Helena and Hermia closest, Lysander and Demetrius right behind them. Lysander grasped at Hermia’s leg pulling it upwards.

Oberon seemed to be relishing this conflict and thrust rhythmically at the stage pillar to which he clung.

The knot broke up with Lysander and Demetrius rushing away to fight each other while Helena ran from the amazed Hermia.

Oberon ordered Puck to cause confusion among them and to juice Lysander’s eyes to restore his love for Hermia.

Demetrius and Lysander were tricked by Puck, who mimicked their voices to lead them apart. His fairy helpers used tree branches to create obstacles hindering their progress.

All four lovers eventually grew tired and fell asleep, guided by the fairies wielding bushes so that they assembled in their correct couplings. After hesitating to make sure he had picked the right Athenian, Puck juiced Lysander so that when they awoke all would be well. At this point the interval came.

The lovers stayed in position asleep for some time into the interval before rising to allow the stage to be prepared for the second half.

A trap door in the promontory was propped open and decked with greenery to make it into another iteration of Titania’s bower.

The second half began with Titania appearing through the forest curtains with Bottom (4.1). He bent forward so that she could place a floral coronet over his long donkey ears. They both reclined against the bower. Bottom’s leg shook in appreciation when his head was scratched.

Titania asked if he wanted to hear some music and when he said “Let’s have the tongs and the bones” the drummers in the gallery began to thump out the base line of “We Will Rock You”, much to Titania’s consternation.

Titania snuggled down with Bottom and made good on her promise “Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms”. Both of them gesturing to the attendant fairies to turn around and not look at them. One fairy would not leave but instead drew closer, prompting Titania’s indignant “Fairies, begone, and be all ways away”.

She wrapped her leg over his, coiling around him like honeysuckle and kissing his snout.

Oberon appeared from out of the trap door behind them with a grunting sound, greeting Puck and expressing his delight at seeing Titania asleep with an ass.

With the changeling now in his charge, Oberon undid the charm on Titania, who awoke and immediately embraced Oberon.

Puck removed the donkey head from Bottom, who had appeared for the second half minus the other donkey parts to ease his restoration.

Titania’s joy turned to edgy bitterness when she snarled at Oberon to tell her how she had been found sleeping “with these mortals on the ground”.

An extended dance sequence by the fairies enabled the actors to change into Theseus and Hippolyta, who entered in hunting outfits with bows for their wedding morning.

Theseus announced that they would go and listen to his hunting hounds. Hippolyta made it clear that she was not impressed by this.

Hippolyta went to draw her bow, but then paused and lowered it again to relate her anecdote about her hunting expedition with Hercules and Cadmus, accompanied by excellent “hounds of Sparta” that made a truly impressive noise.

This assertion of her higher standards was a challenge to which Theseus rose to by insisting that his hounds were also “bred out of the Spartan kind”.

But as he finished his defence of his own dogs, Hippolyta tripped him with her bow, yelping a quick “Oops!” and pretending that it was an accident. This incident fleshed out the hints in the text that Hippolyta was, even at this late stage, still not fully domesticated. Some Amazonian fire continued to burn within her.

Blast

Theseus discovered the lovers sleeping on the ground and ordered the huntsmen to wake them. A blast issued from the trumpeters in the tiring house gallery.

Once fully awake, the lovers explained the course of events in the forest and that they were now settled contentedly into couples.

Theseus concluded that all was well and invited everyone back to Athens. He passed his bow to an attendant and gestured to his fiancée “Come, Hippolyta”. Still resistant to his dominance, Hippolyta smilingly thrust her bow to the attendant right across Theseus’s path, forcing him to stop.

The lovers departed too leaving Bottom to wake all alone. Pearce Quigley did not bring out any of the potential bawdiness in Bottom’s reference to “what methought I had”. He said that he would get Peter Quince to write “a ballet” (the F4 variant) not “a ballad” about his dream.

The mechanicals bemoaned the loss of Bottom and the concomitant failure of their plans to stage a play (4.2). But suddenly the sound of clog dancing could be heard offstage, heralding the return of their leading man. Amid the joy of their reunion, Bottom informed the company that their play had been shortlisted.

On hearing that their play been “preferred”, Quince fell into ecstatic shrieking which lasted for so long that he was eventually left performing this ecstasy stage right while the others stood back and stared at him.

Once Quince had calmed down, Bottom turned away from him to continue his speech “In any case…” which in context of the preceding shrieks was wonderfully dismissive of Quince’s overlong display.

The parts were handed out on sheets to the actors. One of them had to discard his onion, and another spat out a garlic clove, when Bottom warned the company to keep their breaths fresh by avoiding those specific items.

Hippolyta had grown more conciliatory towards Theseus (5.1). She described the events of the previous night as “strange and admirable”, touching Theseus’s cheek tenderly with her hand in a show of genuine affection. Her rebellion against her captor was definitively at an end.

After the lovers joined the couple, Theseus read out the list of entertainments. Philostrate’s disdain for the Mechanicals’ play was accompanied by scornful looks at Hippolyta so that his repeated “nothing, nothing” was clearly his opinion of her.

When he had finished, Hippolyta approached and tipped his hat off his head, matching the frivolity of her revenge to the childishness of his scorn. Theseus settled on Pyramus and Thisbe.

The company arrived, wheeling in their folding stage and props. But disaster struck. Starveling’s (Huss Garbiya) dog was crushed under the rear wheels of the platform. He cradled the limp body of his beloved pet in his arms and wailed as he presented the sorry sight at the front of the platform.

The small stage was folded out and decked with two small-scale Globe stage pillars. These objects made the mechanicals’ stage into a replica of the one it stood on, but they also overcrowded the performance space. This design flaw was to become a major source of comedy. A pair of curtains hung from a pole at the back, one of the pair dressed the wrong way with its lining on show.

Theseus and Hippolyta sat on cushions directly in front of the stage, while the other couples sat further away at each side.

Quince spoke the prologue, but its flow was disrupted by his wincing realisations that his incorrect lineation of the speech meant he was talking nonsense.

Pyramus was given his cue and posed with comic allure between the pillars. Flute, who had been reluctant to take on the female role of Thisbe, and had approached it stiffly, now threw himself into the part with gusto. He dramatically tore apart the curtain to make a diva-like entrance, revealing his painted face, orange wig and hooped dress.

Snout (Tom Lawrence) wore an oblong wicker basket covered in plaster to represent the wall. By the time this large object was on stage, there was precious little space left. He mispronounced the names of the principal characters as “Thyramus and Pisby”.

Bottom put his foot through a stage board, trapping his foot in the gap and consequently losing one of his boots. Snug the joiner crouched and hoisted him up, before loudly nailing down a replacement plank.

Pyramus saw Thisbe’s bloody mantle, prompting thoughts of suicide, but he soon realised he had no sword with which to kill himself. Responding to Bottom’s frantic gestures, Snug improvised by handing Pyramus his saw, which he then stuck under his arm in imitation of a fatal self-inflicted blow.

Thus the prologue ended with the cast grimly trying to avoid falling off the cramped stage.

On to the play proper, Wall spoke of the “crannied hole or chink” through which the lovers were to peep. It was obvious that the two-finger cranny referred to in rehearsals would not be possible because both of Snout’s arms were trapped inside the wall-basket.

Snout struggled inside the wicker frame to punch out holes on either side revealing his unbuttoned underwear just behind the opening.

Pyramus reminded everyone of the original cranny by sticking out his two fingers in a V, which he then flipped rudely at Quince in recognition of this staging failure.

As well as not remembering Quince’s name, Pyramus could not remember his lines. This began absurdly when the forgotten word was “forgot”, and Bottom responded to the prompt by saying “Yes, I know I forgot!” He subsequently forgot almost an entire line and asked for a prompt after each individual word.

The replacement stage board broke, requiring yet another impromptu intervention by Snug and his toolkit. After this repair Pyramus gingerly stepped over the board each time he approached it, not wanting to risk further damage.

The openings in the wall were at waist height and Pyramus looked in disgust at how low he now had to bend in order to talk with Thisbe, who made another drama queen entrance to appear on the other side. Eventually he crouched to look through and at one point extended his arm all the way to the other side.

Wall announced that he had completed his function, climbed down off the stage, lost his balance and fell over. He remained pinioned to the ground by the all-encompassing basketwork.

Slow-witted Snug appeared as Lion and recited his verse lines, fixing his gaze immediately in front of him as if the text was printed in midair. As he jabbed his finger from word to word, Quince stood at the side counting out the feet of the metre, rhythmically slapping his fingers into his palm.

After Lion had demonstrated that he was harmless, Moonshine clutched his dead dog, held up his lantern and peered through it to show that he was the man in the moon. He was mocked by the others and broke down disconsolately at being reminded that his dog was dead.

In another indication of her changed character, Hippolyta took pity on Moonshine and sat him beside her on a cushion to console him as the disastrous performance continued.

Pyramus discovered Thisbe’s bloodstained garment and stabbed himself with a lath sword, slowly lowering himself to the ground, laconically and protractedly announcing his own death.

Thisbe yet again snatched back the curtain for her dramatic entrance. Finding Pyramus dead, she looked at the couples to say “Lovers, make moan” exhorting them to condole with her.

She stabbed herself and also died protractedly, reaching out all round her, uttering a deep gurgling death rattle before collapsing backwards with the hoops of her dress pitching upwards to reveal the actor’s undergarments.

The mechanicals offer to dance was taken up, which allowed time for the actors to change into Titania and Oberon for the final sequence.

As candles were lit in the tiring house gallery, Puck struck a magical note with his speech about the quietness of the house that Oberon proceeded to bless. This was followed by dancing and Puck’s final farewell.

The cast moved into a formation and chanted as they performed some tai chi style movements. On completion the audience had its cue to show its appreciation.

Conclusions

The foregrounding of Hippolyta by dramatising her capture made her a major focus of attention and her character arc more dramatically satisfying than the relatively bland story of the foursome of lovers, which almost became a subplot. Her character was much more than a blank set of parentheses to the romantic plot.

The implication in the text that Hippolyta had been captured and effectively tamed was made unambiguously clear, inviting comparisons between Hippolyta and Katharina Minola.

Michelle Terry further cemented her reputation for excellence in assertive female Shakespearean roles, making full use of her superlative voice projection.

The production provided another instance of Pearce Quigley transforming every role in which he is cast by applying his trademark laconic style. In this case swapping Bottom’s traditional rumbustiousness into something more subtle but equally amusing.

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A Northern Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 9 February 2013

As we looked down at the sea, the sunlight sparkled on the gently rippling waves kissing the coast of luscious Sicily, all of which was a computer-generated projection on the back wall. High above the rocky outcrops of the shore, the royal palace presented a scene of relaxed luxury. On the real stage in front of the projections, revellers lay dozing after a feast, sprawled on elegant blankets and cushions.

Into this scene stepped Camillo (Daniel Betts) and Archidamus (David Shaw-Parker), the latter casting lascivious glances at a reclining woman and evidently much taken with the two buxom nurses who brought in Mamillius (1.1). That a guest from the Bohemian court should be taking such evident pleasure in the Sicilian women cleverly prefigured Leontes’ suspicions.

Leontes (Jo Stone-Fewings), Hermione (Tara Fitzgerald) and Polixenes (Adam Levy) awoke with a start and threw off the blanket under which they had slept (1.2). This established the close relationship between the royal friends. Hermione asked Polixenes to remain longer without any hint of flirtation, and Leontes’ generally affable demeanour meant that the slight snarl with which he accompanied “At my request he would not” came as a complete surprise.

Whatever was fermenting inside Leontes did not translate into any anger or aggression towards Hermione when he explained that the first time that she had spoken well was when agreeing to marry him. In thanks for this praise, Hermione dutifully kissed her husband referring to her first good deed that “for ever earned a royal husband”.

But then as Hermione referred to “the other for some while a friend”, she turned to kiss Polixenes and they both froze in a red spotlight. Polixenes smooch her passionately, prompting Leontes to exclaim to us “Too hot, too hot!” He turned to face them once more, continuing his description of their “paddling palms”, while Polixenes leant forward to listen at Hermione’s baby bump as if listening to the sound of his own child.

The red (for anger) colour of the light and the clearly fanciful actions of Polixenes hinted that what we were seeing was Leontes’ distorted imagination and not reality.

Leontes clutched Mamillius to him but still displayed no outward sign of distress to his wife and friend, with an ease that suggested years of such dissembling in matters of state.

He turned again and in red spotlight saw Hermione and Polixenes holding hands in a dance as they slipped away offstage. This led Leontes into his speech to the audience about the ubiquity of infidelity which he delivered in a calm and resigned manner.

His furious insistence to Camillo that Hermione had been unfaithful, with his lingering meditation on Polixenes’ apparent desire to “satisfy” Hermione’s entreaties, drew objections from the servant but ultimately unquestioning obedience. Camillo would poison Polixenes.

Polixenes heard Camillo’s warning about his fatal errand incredulously and offered the servant an opportunity to escape, which he took.

As Mamillius snuggled close to his mother to tell his winter’s tale downstage, further upstage near the raised platform, Leontes fulminated about Hermione’s betrayal before bursting in on them (2.1).

He accused her openly of adultery. His response to her denial was to punch her brutally on the belly with such force that, after some moments in shock, she fell to the ground clutching at her unborn child.

But despite the savagery of Leontes’ attack, Hermione acted protectively of him. He collapsed in anguish next to her and she smothered him with her arms, convinced that he was temporarily distracted. Her solicitous concern for her husband, even after he had assaulted her, was a very powerful statement about her character.

Leontes dealt with his attendants’ objections forcefully but with no sign of the excessive anger that had occasioned his punch. He went to lie down on the raised platform.

Determined

Paulina (Rakie Ayola) was in her own way as brisk, determined and business-like as Leontes. Her insistence that Hermione’s new-born daughter be brought to her was successful (2.2).

As each sequence had progressed the viewpoint of the sea on the back wall projection had descended ever closer to sea level. By now it was showing rocks bathed in cold rather than warm light with a hint of snow.

A projection showed Leontes’ nightmare, in which he plunged from a great height into the sea (2.3). He awoke from his sleep at the moment of impact and described how he had “nor night nor day no rest”.

Paulina approached with the baby in a bundle. The prop baby made very realistic gurgling and crying noises.

Though there was some comedy from Antigonus (Duncan Wisbey), who wittily pointed out that most husbands cannot silence their wives, and also turned to shush the baby whose cries he feared would further anger the already riled Leontes, the sequence was mostly characterised by Leontes’ fury at Paulina and the baby.

He had to be restrained from rushing at the precariously placed child. He had already effectively punched her on the head when in the womb and was now a further threat as she was lying on the ground before him.

Paulina’s determined handling of Leontes put him so much on the back foot, that when he turned to his attendants to say “Were I a tyrant, where were her life?” it was as if he was trying to overcome their scepticism.

With Paulina gone and only his men to deal with, Leontes wavered only slightly in his determination to see the child killed. But eventually he had Antigonus swear by placing his hand on a large sword to leave the child in a remote place.

Cleomenes (Joseph Pitcher) and Dion (Daniel Millar) appeared like Edwardian adventurers describing their return from the oracle at Delphos (3.1).

The court session opened with a number of shackled prisoners being ushered into the court and an executioner with a large sword standing upstage ready to execute the guilty (3.2).

After the charge was read, Hermione began her staccato defence. Stilted rather than the emotional, this speech was the only weak point in Tara Fitzgerald’s performance. Leontes’ constant contradictions led her to speak “Sir. You. Speak. A. Language. That. I. Understand. Not” word by word as if talking to someone slow of understanding.

Proving that she did not fear to die, she offered up her neck to the executioner who lined up the edge of his blade as onlookers cried “no!” in protest. But Hermione appealed to the oracle, a request which on being adjudicated just, caused the executioner to put his blade aside.

After swearing on the executioner’s sword, Cleomenes and Dion handed over the sealed scroll. There was great rejoicing at the news that Hermione and Camillo were innocent. But Leontes, branded a tyrant, came forward and scrutinised the scroll before weakly declaring that it contained no truth. At this time Hermione and Paulina found themselves staring at each other upstage in a strange close formation that perhaps foreshadowed their subsequent arrangement.

Tunic

That instant, one of the nurses brought in the neatly folded Tudor tunic that had belonged to Mamillius with the news that he had died. The queen fainted and was escorted away by Paulina while Leontes crouched and bewailed his mistake.

On her return to confront Leontes with the reality of his error, Paulina took a shawl from her shoulders and hit Leontes firmly with it, venting her frustration.

Leontes staggered upstage to the raised platform, which began to rise out of the ground, becoming a tall tower made of telescopic sections bearing him aloft. The dirty industrial look of the tower made it reminiscent of the factory chimneys that had so effectively marked the industrial era in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony the previous year.

With the back wall projection showing a ship tossed at sea, Antigonus and the Mariner (Phil Snowden) brought the baby ashore in a small wicker basket (3.3).

The ship split sending its crew plunging into the water, while Antigonus was chased away by a CGI bear that appeared to rear up out of the sea and walk across it. This was puzzling and lacked all credibility.

The entry of the Old Shepherd (David Shaw-Parker again)brought some welcome relief with his speech about the boiled brains of the young. He wandered up and down casting occasional glances at the wicker basket until finally stooping to examine it.

The Young Shepherd (Nick Holder) was a fat and bald comedy northerner. He described the shipwreck and bear attack, miming the bear chewing on Antigonus’ severed arm. At this point the interval came.

With no figure of Time to mark the passing of 16 years, the second half began with 4.2 as Polixenes and Camillo themselves mentioned the passage of 16 years (corrected from F1’s 15). They hatched their plan to visit Florizel (Gavin Fowler) in disguise.

Leontes was still just visible reclining on the top of the tower which now had a pipe curled round it rather like an industrial helter skelter.

The stage became filled with Edwardian seaside folk dozing on deck chairs and asleep on the ground in a mirror image of the scene of lazy splendour at the start of the performance, but this time against the backdrop of grimy industrial tower itself standing in front of a projection of a seaside pier.

Pearce Quigley’s Autolycus was one of the highlights of the production (4.3). His laconic dry-witted characterisation was instantly recognisable as a variation on the Grumio he had played the previous year at The Globe.

He sang as he strolled among the sleepy sunbathers, first stealing an ice-cream and then a drink before eyeing a sheet that a woman slept on. He tugged on the sheet but it would not move from under her. So he turned his back and broke wind, causing the woman to roll away and release the sheet. When she awoke he proceeded to sell the sheet back to her, turning to the audience with a grin to announce “My traffic is sheets”.

Off in the distance on the pier, the sound of a funfair hammer bell prompted Autolycus to say “A prize!”

The Young Shepherd woke up and simultaneously felt the chest and stroked the groin of the woman and man next to him in a grotesque and ribald parody of the awakening of the royal family at the start of the performance.

As he went over his list of intended purchases, behind him Autolycus quickly stole a long stick and a pair of (anachronistic) sunglasses and attracted the Young Shepherd’s attention while pretending to be blind. Autolycus picked the shepherd’s pocket as he manipulated his victim’s shoulder.

But the shepherd went to retrieve his now missing purse, and Autolycus realised he would discover the recent theft. So he instinctively took off his glasses and gestured wildly at the picked pocket insisting that he did not need the shepherd’s money. This miraculous restoration of Autolycus’ vision was a mistake that he hastily corrected but replacing his glasses and acting blind again. The shepherd gave a brief, quizzical look before dismissing the anomaly.

Satisfied with his work, Autolycus sang “Jog on, jog on…” as he exited.

Fortune

Our first look at Florizel and Perdita (Emma Noakes) showed the young woman to have completely assimilated the northern accent of her adoptive family while the young man’s accent betrayed his noble birth. The two shepherds meanwhile were very finely dressed, the result of the small fortune they had found alongside baby Perdita.

As people gathered for the fair, Polixenes and Camillo entered in their disguises, which were neither extravagant nor comic, but standard Edwardian gentlemen’s apparel. The Old Shepherd had to force Perdita forward to greet the new arrivals.

Florizel and Perdita began to dance and both froze in position as Florizel lifted Perdita aloft, allowing Polixenes and Camillo to make extensive praise of her. At this instant she was elevated both physically and in terms of renown.

This action freeze and associated comment was a positive version of Leontes red-mist vision of Hermione and Polixenes in the first half. The jealous anger of the former now contrasted with the generous affection of the latter.

Mopsa (Charlotte Mills) and Dorcas (Sally Bankes) were two plain low-class women who fought over the Young Shepherd in a comical.

Autolycus arrived at the fair disguised in a turban and pantaloons, which made him unrecognisable to the shepherd he had recently robbed. He carried in a tall, narrow funfair tent bearing the name of Elias the seer or a fortune teller.

Further dispute between Mopsa and Dorcas caused the Young Shepherd to ask “Will they wear their fannies where they should bear their faces?” i.e. changed from the original “plackets”.

Autolycus’ exited to sell some of his wares and was followed by an accordionist. He stopped and asked him “Can I help you?” and beckoned to him to follow as he left to accompany the shepherd and his girls.

The dance of the twelve Satyrs was a northern clog morris dance that was very enjoyable to watch, unlike many attempts at staging this particular sequence.

Polixenes began a closer interrogation of Florizel, who made a veiled boast of his impending inheritance “one being dead”, and thus increased his father’s ire.

Polixenes rushed round the back of the helter skelter tower and made a grand entrance out of the lower end of the pipe, in his shirtsleeves and smeared with dirt, to reveal his true identity to his son and threaten the Old Shepherd and Perdita.

Spying an opportunity to return home, Camillo advised Florizel and Perdita to flee to Sicily.

Autolycus returned with his swag, which prompted Camillo to propose an exchange of clothes to provide Florizel and Perdita with disguises. They went into his tent to swap garments, but Autolycus had to send the accordionist out first, telling him “Get your own tent”, at which point he slouched away dejectedly.

Florizel took Autolycus’ shirt while Perdita had his oversize pantaloons, while in exchange Autolycus received a fine, long white coat.

This set him up nicely to trick the two shepherds, who were worried by their connection with the disgraced Perdita, into thinking he was a courtier. Addressing the “rustics”, he spoke as finely as he could while emphasising he had “the air of the court” by adopting a series of ridiculous stances, like an athlete warming up by bending at one knee.

His change from “fardel” to “box” was spoken as a deliberate simplification for the simple shepherds.

Autolycus enjoyed his protracted description of the fate awaiting the Young Shepherd, pausing after each punishment to continue with a repetitive “then”. Each continuation of “then” caused the two shepherds equal alarm, so much so that the Young Shepherd greeted the final one by swearing under his breath.

He escorted them to the ship on which Florizel and company were getting ready to sail to Sicily.

Tower

Marking the shift of scene back to Sicily, the tower rotated to reveal it had no back, displaying a network of stairs leading from the ground to the top where Leontes still lay after 16 years (5.1).

Paulina, Cleomenes and Dion gathered at its base, with Cleomenes knocking on the door to summon Leontes from his prison.

This striking staging meant that both Leontes and Hermione had spent the same period of time in seclusion from the rest of the world.

He descended to ground level wrapped in a red blanket, the same colour as the rage of his jealous, angry visions of Hermione’s supposed infidelity.

Leontes’ sad ruminations turned to something approaching happiness when Florizel and his princess arrived.

The prince was confident in his explanation of his presence, despite hesitating when he claimed that Perdita “came from Libya”. Perdita was not required to speak, otherwise her distinctive accent would have instantly revealed that she was not Libyan.

The second messenger’s news of the arrival of Polixenes and the truth of young people’s flight brought revelation upon revelation with Leontes promising to help the would-be marrieds.

The joyous offstage reunions were related by two inebriated gentlemen, one still holding the champagne bottle and glasses that had attended the impromptu celebrations (5.2).

Autolycus listened keenly to these accounts before humbling himself by kneeling before the two shepherds, whose fine clothes were now decorated with jewels. The previously bald Young Shepherd was also sporting a fine blond wig.

But despite his apparent contrition, Autolycus could not resist pick-pocketing from them once more, going so far as to steal the Young Shepherd’s wig.

Paulina gathered the spectators for the viewing of the statue of Hermione. A white gauze tent was brought on, its structure and design very (and possibly deliberately) similar to Autolycus’ fairground tent, except for its brilliant pure whiteness (5.3).

The curtain was drawn back to reveal Hermione dressed in white like a classical statue, holding a large goblet in front of her with both hands. This pose was easy to hold completely still for the required time.

Leontes was immediately moved to approach the figure, as was Perdita who despite her supposed innate breeding, impulsively lunged forward and had to be restrained by Paulina.

There was some tittering from the audience when Leontes noticed the wrinkles on Hermione’s face, which Paulina excused as the artistic licence of the sculptor.

Hermione’s awakening saw her suddenly flash her eyes open as if after a long sleep. She gazed around as if only now aware of the people around her. This created the impression that she had really been under some hypnotic effect and was not simply playing along with Paulina’s elaborate ruse.

She stood still, stiffly posed, and extended her hand towards Leontes, who took it and was soon embracing his long-lost wife. She similarly greeted Perdita.

The performance ended with a dance that resembled the one that had been the occasion of Leontes’ original jealous anger. The extended hand gesture in the dance was emphasised to remind us of Hermione’s greeting to Leontes when she revived.

Conclusions

It was difficult not be affected by Leontes’ brutal attack on Hermione, the savagery of which was counterbalanced by Pierce Quigley’s outstandingly funny Autolycus.

The set design did more than create great visual impact: by creating an isolated retreat for Leontes’ sixteen years of solitude, it facilitated a new angle on the story.

The defanging of the shrew

The Taming of the Shrew, The Globe, 27 June 2012

The most disturbing thing about this production of Shrew was that there was nothing remotely disturbing about it.

At the end the audience willingly cheered the happy couple’s kiss after Katharina’s apparent act of self-abasement: somehow the problematic nature of the play had been completely obliterated.

In retrospect it was possible to determine that this extraordinary effect had been deliberately and skilfully achieved by the most subtle of means.

And it was so much more than just another instance of the familiar staging that has Kate discover that humouring Petruchio can be fun.

The process began right at the start.

The pre-performance warm-up music from the Globe band was disrupted by a loutish figure at the back of the yard, St George flags painted on each cheek, shouting and gesticulating as he made his way forward and stumbled up the steps onto the stage.

He was immediately surrounded by theatre staff who tried to push him back and even the stage manager came out from the tiring house to try and stop him.

But he proceeded to urinate against the stage right pillar, turning towards the audience in mid-flow so that the Globe boards and a groundling near the stage front were comprehensively soaked.

Tired and emotional, the bedraggled football fan collapsed and was attended by a medic, prompting the stage manager to announce the cancellation of the performance.

For an encore, the man sat up and vomited.

Needless to say, all this (including the wet fake groundling) was part of the performance and our first glimpse of Christopher Sly (Simon Paisley Day).

Some of the play’s cast, half changed into costume and still wearing their ID badges, found Sly and planned to trick him into thinking he was a gentleman.

This integral part of the plot was made to seem an ad hoc invention of the actors and practised on a random audience member. The worlds outside and inside the play were seamlessly connected.

Sly was taken away to be dressed in fine clothes and the youngest of the actors ordered to dress as a woman and pretend to be his wife.

Sly was brought out in a chair and awoke in his new clothes still drunk and called for small ale. He shouted about being Christopher Sly of Bermondsey who drank at The Anchor on Park Street, which is real pub in a real street just around the corner from the Globe.

He was offered fine food and drink and the others held up paintings. One of these was an empty frame in which one of the huntsmen tried to look like its subject, the mythological figure of Daphne.

When the Page returned as his wife, Sly started to grope him. The frustration caused by the rebuttal of his advances led him to comment “Ay, it stands…”.

Tucked away at the end of the play’s induction came the first element in the production’s subliminal engineering of the audience’s reaction.

The messenger told the duped Sly that his players had come to perform a play for him. Instead of the text’s “Is not a comonty a Christmas gambol or a tumbling-trick?” addressed back to the messenger, this Sly turned to face the audience and asked “Is there a fool in it?”

His precise tone of voice in phrasing this question indicated that he already knew the answer. Simon Paisley Day, soon to change from Sly into Petruchio, had been given an invented line whose sole purpose was to seed the idea that the main play we were about to see was the story of a fool: name Petruchio.

Though interestingly, Simon Paisley Day was only credited as Petruchio. As far as this production was concerned, Sly did not exist as a separate character: Sly was Petruchio.

Sly and his “wife” walked down the slope at the front of the stage and joined the groundlings at the stage left front of the yard.

Craic

In the first scene of the play proper we were introduced to Lucentio (Joseph Timms) and Irish-accented servant Tranio (Jamie Beamish) (1.1). As Paduan scholars sat in their black outfits by the stage left pillar, Tranio counselled his master not to work too hard. This advice to enjoy the craic was apt coming from an Irish character.

Seeing Baptista’s group enter, they retreated to the Globe balcony and observed him reminding Bianca’s suitors that she could not be married before Kate had found a husband.

The dotard Gremio (Michael Bertenshaw) walked with the aid of a stick and almost fell into yard. This comic turn paved the way for the entry of Kate (Samantha Spiro) who growled and waved her fists in fury at her tormentors.

When Hortensio (Rick Warden) contradicted her she snarled and grabbed him by the hair. Interestingly, Kate’s hair was black and had a Medusa-like quality to it that suited her character’s female rage. By contrast Bianca (Sarah MacRae) was blonde, tall and pretty.

Having heard Baptista (Pip Donaghy) ask whether any of Bianca’s suitors could supply her with tutors, the others exited through the centre doors. Kate was shut out and cried “I may go too, may I not?” She banged on the door, ran at it and then knocked both leaves to the ground before walking over them.

This was an initial dose of cartoonish unreality that served to distance us from Kate as a real person: crucial to making her final surrender palatable.

Gremio said “Farewell” to Hortensio who went to leave, but he returned when he overheard Gremio talk of finding “a fit man to teach her”. Not wanting to be outmanoeuvred, Hortensio picked up the idea and said he would do the same. They agreed among themselves to get a husband for Kate and thereby release Bianca.

The love-struck Lucentio received a reality check from Tranio, who announced with great comic timing that his master’s plan to woo Bianca in the guise of a schoolmaster was “Not possible”.

Hitting on the idea of swapping identities so that Tranio could woo her in loco Lucentio, the pair got almost fully undressed onstage to change clothes. Tranio shifted out of his Irish accent when pretending to be Lucentio. This great device was used throughout the play, and also meant that at moments of great stress Tranio would slip back into Irish.

At the end of the scene, Sly and his wife down in the yard commented on the play and left through the piazza doors. After a quick change, Simon Paisley Day returned as Petruchio (1.2).

Petruchio was tall and middle-aged. Yet despite being possessed of a confident manner, he was by no means a ladies’ man. There was a hint of comedy behind his amorous pretensions and obvious neediness. This characterisation added to the sense that he was not a serious threat to Kate.

Petruchio’s servant Grumio (Pearce Quigley) was lugubrious and sarcastic. This sarcasm was particularly pointed and served to undermine Petruchio further in the eyes of the audience. The production subliminally suggested that Petruchio was a fool, and Grumio’s persistent needling of his master was a major component in this.

This could be seen when Grumio cottoned on to the actual meaning of Petruchio’s request “Knock me here soundly”. The proverbial light bulb went on, whereupon Grumio repeated “Knock at the gate!” as if suddenly discerning the sense in the utterance of a child or an imbecile.

Given Petruchio’s advancing years, Grumio guffawed when his master referred to himself as one of the “young men”.

On each of the three occasions that Petruchio referred to the death of his father, Grumio loudly kicked a bucket, apologising for the disturbance immediately afterwards.

Petruchio’s principal ambition was to find a wife and he descended the slope to point at a female groundling as if asking her to be his bride.

He was taken aback at Hortensio’s promise that he had a rich wife lined up for him. Hortensio began to praise Kate’s good features, but when he got to “Her only fault” he paused and the audience began jeering with laughter. Hortensio looked at us jokingly.

Bravado

They were joined by Gremio and Lucentio disguised as a scholar pretending to be acting for Gremio. Petruchio attempted to reassure Gremio that he would be able to marry Kate and free up Bianca for him, saying that Kate’s scolding would not intimidate an experienced soldier such as himself. But this sounded like bravado. His pretensions to bravery had been comically undercut by his age and Grumio’s mockery.

All was not well when we saw the Minola sisters for the second time. Bianca had been blindfolded and tied up by Kate, who now took down the blindfold demanding that her sister tell which of her suitors she liked best (2.1). Kate was very rough and violent towards Bianca, at one point headbutting her. This made Kate very unsympathetic.

The sisters ended up fighting. But when Baptista arrived, Bianca fell to the ground crying and immediately got her father’s sympathy. Kate stormed off in disgust at this gross unfairness.

The suitors entered with their gifts of books and a lute. Baptista was understandably thrown by Petruchio’s description of Kate as “fair and virtuous”. When presenting Hortensio, Petruchio paused before “mathematics”, indicating that this was a spur of the moment addition to his skills. Gremio, presenting Lucentio/Cambio, similarly paused before “mathematics” as if matching Petruchio’s bid.

As Petruchio and Baptista discussed marriage arrangements, shouting and banging was heard off stage. Hortensio returned with his glasses askew and shortly afterwards a lute with a hole through it was thrown out from the offstage classroom.

Petruchio was left alone and Kate sent to meet him. She looked at her new suitor as if he were mad. This was perhaps justified by the way Petruchio proceeded to move around her as he began his paean of praise to her.

The couple traded barbed insults with Petruchio acting out some of the bawdy wordplay to make its meaning obvious.

He knelt when asking her to sit on him and assumed a dominant sexual position when saying “I will not burden thee”. He then faced Kate and spread his legs when he described her as “light”.

Describing herself as “heavy as my weight should be”, Kate placed her foot on his crotch as if taking back control of the female part that he had mocked.

Despite her barbs, Kate was very impressed with his wit; particularly so in her reaction to his “tongue in tail” joke.

She struck at him but he held her, warning that he would cuff her if she struck again. This she did. He caught her hand, but she wrestled him to the ground, pinning him saying “So you may lose your arms”.

This latter remark was not wit from a physically overpowered woman, but a threat against Petruchio’s arms pinned to the ground. This was important in establishing them as near equals and showing that Petruchio’s physical dominance was not unquestioned.

Petruchio reversed like a crab when that creature was referred to. The audience laughed when Petruchio said “I am too young for you”. We had already got into the habit of finding his claims to youth and vigour comical.

The pair ended up sprawled on the ground as Petruchio spoke of making her a “Kate conformable”. Baptista and the others saw this apparently cosy scene from a distance, lending credence to Petruchio’s subsequent claim that Kate had been won and was only curst for appearances.

Petruchio grasped Kate’s hand and she struggled to get free. Baptista took hold of them both to seal the arrangement, at which Kate could only look on aghast.

After Petruchio and Kate had left, Baptista auctioned off Bianca between Tranio/Lucentio and Gremio. The audience expressed its sympathy for the defeated Gremio with ‘awws’.

The scene with Bianca’s Latin lesson (3.1) had Bianca take Lucentio down onto the slope to prevent Hortensio overhearing them. She concluded by telling him to “despair not”.

Marriage

On the day of her marriage, Kate stood around in her white wedding dress fuming that Petruchio had not come (3.2). The audience cheered Biondello (Tom Godwin) at the end of his exhaustive speech describing the dishevelled appearance of Petruchio and his sickly horse.

When he finally arrived, Petruchio wore a jerkin with pantaloons, one boot top folded down, a stuffed codpiece and had a copper saucepan on his head. A carrot was just visible, wedged inside the pan next to his head. Grumio held a bit in his mouth and used coconuts to make a clopping noise like a horse.

Petruchio eventually stripped off his outer clothes so that he was dressed only in a pouch codpiece and boots. This looked ridiculous and further undermined his credibility.

Grumio tried to speak but the bit meant he could only make a gargling sound. Petruchio took the carrot from the saucepan and stuck it in Grumio’s mouth.

In a final humiliating act, Petruchio turned and walked away to reveal his bare behind. Truly this play did have a fool in it.

Forgetting his assumed role for an instant, Tranio switched between Irish and English accents mid-speech when Gremio returned with his description of the riotous wedding.

Once the wedding party had returned, Kate asserted her independence by refusing to leave with her new husband. Petruchio’s response was simple: he packed her onto Grumio’s back and they set off with Grumio bearing her like a horse.

Bianca said that her sister was “madly mated”, inspiring Gremio to make an additional joke by saying that Petruchio was “Kated”, but the witticism fell flat.

After the interval, antlers were hung from the Globe balcony to represent the interior of Petruchio’s house (4.1). A sky blue curtain across the upper gallery marked the bedroom.

A large dining table was set out and the servants gathered to sing the bawdy song Cuckoo’s Nest. After this lusty introduction to the second half, Grumio came clopping in and began disciplining the staff (including Christopher Keegan as Nathaniel).

Grumio used cutlery and plates to tell story of their disastrous journey. Kate was represented by a ladle, Petruchio by a spoon. Metal plates were bashed together to indicate how Grumio had been struck. Curtis (Tom Anderson) picked up the spoon standing for Petruchio when describing his master as the real shrew.

Grumio’s references to his horse were modified to “my real horse”, a necessary distinction as he was acting like one. This slight playfulness with reality formed part of overall atmosphere of the production.

Petruchio and Kate arrived at the end of their journey, he with his jacket on and she in a mired white dress, still looking confused.

There was something slightly Basil Fawlty about Petruchio ordering his servants around. Lots of nice food was laid out on the table. Kate was sat at the stage left side almost ready to tuck in, when Petruchio threw away a bowl of water, blaming the servant that had brought it.

Kate ended up at other end of the table just as Petruchio declared that the food was burnt and set about throwing it all to the ground before taking a perplexed Kate away.

They went upstairs to his bedchamber behind the hanging. We heard Kate screaming “Yes, yes, yes” suggesting that the marriage was being consumated.

Curtis stood at the gap in the curtain and reported that Petruchio was making “a sermon of continency to her”, a point immediately underlined when Petruchio could be heard contradicting her saying “No”.

Petruchio spoke about his “reign” over Kate from the slope in a speech full of falconry terms.

Balcony

Tranio brought Hortensio to show him Lucentio and Bianca kissing up on the balcony, now decorated with a different curtain to represent the house in Padua (4.2).

Hortensio despaired, removed his beard disguise and gave up on his pursuit of Bianca. The others then enlisted the Pedant (Patrick Driver) to stand in for Vincentio.

Back at Petruchio’s house, Grumio refused to give grapes to Kate, throwing them instead into the yard where they were caught by a groundling (4.3).

When she begged for food, another cartoonish piece of humour occurred (at least in this preview: the staging was changed for the main run).

Grumio set out a table and chair and sat Kate down before handing her a menu. He stood like a waiter ready to take her order. Each delicacy with which he tempted her was itemised as if on the menu. To complete the impression, Grumio’s accent changed into that of a posh foodie waiter. Kate beat him for his insolence.

Petruchio brought a fine roast chicken, but would not let Kate have it until she said thanks. She complied, saying “I thank you, sir” through gritted teeth as if she was forcing the words out against her will. But Kate was insufficiently sincere and all the chicken went to Hortensio, obliging her to watch him eat it.

Kate’s humiliation continued when Petruchio took the elegant cap brought the Tailor (David Beames) from her head and stood on it. Kate tried to pull the cap from under his feet. The gown was modelled comically by Grumio. Petruchio pulled off one of its sleeves and looked through it comparing it to a demi-cannon.

Because Grumio was actually wearing the gown himself, the joke he made about taking up his mistress’ gown for his master’s use suddenly acquired a new comic angle.

Petruchio dragged Kate away still in her tattered clothes. His speech about jays and larks, adders and eels sounded ridiculous. She looked at him as if he were insane.

In a foreshadowing of their argument on the road back to Padua, Kate contradicted Petruchio’s opinion about the time of day. He looked exasperated, saying she was “still crossing it”.

The fake Vincentio presented himself to Baptista and slowly and deliberately recited his prepared speech (4.4). The others stood behind Baptista and encouraged their stooge, prompting him using mime when he forgot his lines. But the subterfuge worked and the marriage of Lucentio and Bianca was arranged.

Petruchio and Kate made their way from the yard up onto the stage with an entire party of servants (4.5). Wearied by the long journey to Padua they were attempting to raise their flagging spirits by singing a comic song and expected Kate to complete each line with the word “pig”. She did so twice but then passed out, spread-eagled on the ground making no reply.

Still disobedient to Petruchio’s demands, Kate refused to say that the sun was the moon. This caused the servants to get annoyed at her intransigence. They were tired from carrying the luggage for the pair and any delay prolonged their discomfort.

Here again the production skilfully drew the audience into seeing Kate’s actions as reasonable and not the result of Petruchio’s sadism.

Firstly, the song game created a playful atmosphere. Secondly and crucially, the moans from the servants at her refusal to play the game and agree with Petruchio meant that her eventual surrender could be seen as much as kindness to them as it was obedience to her husband.

He contradicted her once again, and her line “What you will have it named… And so it shall be so for Katharina” was accompanied by a sincere look of acquiescence. Seeing that she had been won, he gazed at her lovingly and held her hand.

Satisfied with her response, he yelled “Well, forward, forward!” ordering the party to move on, both physically on their journey and also to suggest the onward progress of their marriage.

The pair came across the real Vincentio (David Beames again). Kate willingly collaborated with Petruchio’s joke at the old man’s expense, referring to him as a maid at Petruchio’s suggestion and then correcting herself when Petruchio backtracked. This was all a playful game between a loving couple rather than further bullying.

Picking up on the good-natured wit of their game, Vincentio himself played along by referring to Kate as “sir” and Petruchio as “my merry mistress” as if getting in the spirit of things.

Rebuffed

The large confluence of characters outside Lucentio’s house gave rise to the comic sequence in which the real Vincentio was rebuffed by the fake Vincentio on the balcony (5.1). Petruchio and Kate went off to watch the ensuing chaos from the yard.

Having discovered his servant’s deception, Vincentio wrestled with Tranio as they both rolled a short way down the slope at the stage front.

Further disorder was prevented when Lucentio explained what had happened. When Gremio realised his hopes of marrying Bianca had been dashed there were more “awws” of commiseration for him from the audience. But Vincentio and Baptista, although relieved, were still annoyed at the deception.

Witnessing her father’s distress, Bianca realised that this clever scheme was flawed and had a look of thunder on her face. Lucentio asked her not to look pale, an instruction that prompted her to slap Lucentio on the face.

This set her up nicely as a froward wife in the final scene. Her character has an interesting trajectory: she must initially seem a good girl compared with Kate, but by the end of the play she has to be a bad match for one of the sped husbands. The slap here was a neat, clearly noticeable way of underlining that transition.

Kate seemed sheepish when Petruchio wanted her to kiss him in the street. But when he asked if she was ashamed of him, his scolding was clearly jocular and half-hearted, as if only returning to previous form for old-times’ sake.

They kissed, but only after Petruchio gestured at Grumio to turn and look the other way. This implied that Petruchio possessed some of Kate’s sensitivity about public kissing, again emphasising their similarity and the health of their relationship.

But Grumio had the last laugh by getting out a mirror, breathing on it to polish it, and then positioning it to observe the kiss.

This comic disobedience of Petruchio’s request was another instance in which his authority was undermined, making him once again into the butt of the joke.

Lucentio’s house was prepared for the feast in the final scene (5.2). Candles were lit in chandeliers which were hoisted above the stage. An onstage servant pretended to pull the rope and tie it up, while the offstage technicians did the actually lifting.

Chairs were placed and rugs set out to allow Petruchio to sit stage left with Kate on the ground next to him, rather like a “household Kate”.

When the Widow (Helen Weir) implied that Petruchio had married a shrew, thereby warping his view of other marriages, Petruchio and Kate combined to rebuff her.

The frowardness of the Widow and Bianca was emphasised by way they both spoke from centre stage in a powerful position. Petruchio wagered the others that Kate was a better wife than those two, and soon a table was burdened with large amounts of gold coin as stakes were placed.

The women went to the balcony. Biondello was dispatched to fetch them in turn, and reported back their various excuses. To everyone’s surprise (except Petruchio’s) Kate came when called and appeared on the balcony.

Kate escorted the other two to the main stage and her final speech was delivered from the stage front slope, addressing the women in the yard.

Having delivered her homily on submissiveness with complete sincerity, she went back up the slope and put her hand on the ground.

Petruchio knelt before her and held her hand instead of treading on it, a gesture which led into a final kiss. The performance ended on Petruchio’s triumphant claim that the other husbands were “sped”.

Conclusions

Why had Kate abased herself? In the absence of any psychological realism, the production did not concern itself with providing an answer to that question.

Instead of grappling with ways to deal with such problems or to make the play’s difficult subject matter palatable, the production chose instead to render the play into a harmless comedy stripped of anything that might make it perplexing.

That this was possible was fascinating in itself. Dissecting the subtleties of its technique proved to be the icing on the cake.