Tuesday, 19 July 2016

the taming of the shrew (d. caroline byrne)

a trip to the globe

There’s inevitably something of the heritage experience about visiting the Globe, just as there is when you visit Sutton Hoo or Stonehenge. It’s on the tourist circuit. Lots of people probably go not because they want to see the play, but because they want to experience the theatre. And a wonderful thing it is to experience too. Within its Wooden O, you get a sense of the role the theatre played in Elizabethan society. A space to be seen and a space to see. A space which is both profoundly democratic and hierarchical at the same time. A space possessing an energy within a small town that must have been incalculable. (No matter how similar the Globe is to its forefather, the society and the city have changed beyond compare.) It’s an exciting experience to step into the Globe, cherish its intimacy, cherish the power that the theatre possesses. A power which the black box has done so much to nullify. 

The day we went, we were lucky enough to experience not just Caroline Byrne’s version of Taming of the Shrew, but also a brief piece by Jess Thom, a performer with Tourette’s, and a Q&A with the audience. Thom’s piece was short, sharp and incisive, describing a visit to another London theatre to see a Mark Thomas show about segregation in Palestine, where she had ended up being asked to move to the sound booth because of her disability. The inclusiveness of the Globe as a theatre was made all the more evident by Thom’s brief performance. It’s a space which allows for all manner of performance. all kinds of performers and as diverse an audience as you could wish for. A space which works for a circus or a one-woman show (a soliloquy or a masque). The power of the space was underlined by the Q&A with Thom and members of the Shrew cast. One member of the audience threw out a contentious remark about Byrne’s version of the Shrew being overloaded with theatrical devices, at the expense of Shakespeare’s verse. For a second you could sense the bear pit beneath the stage. It didn’t quite all kick off, but the cast’s response suggested the potential for tension that a space so intimate is capable of generating.

The audience member’s observation helps to pinpoint the difficulties of staging Shakespeare in the Globe. The new artistic director has been chosen because she’s a believer in making Shakespeare accessible. The more classically minded audience might feel this is a populist approach which fails to reveal the true glory of the text. Byrne’s direction of the Shrew is a rumbunctious, entertaining affair. The cast in the Q&A mentioned that they spent the first week of rehearsals exploring the physicality of the play. There are set piece moments, including the wedding, where the choreography supersedes the letter. From this audience member’s POV, this is all to the good. A play which has a reputation for being almost impossible to stage due to its un-PC approach to marriage somehow succeeds in this production in suggesting a neo-feminist subtext. This is in part down to a steely performance from Aoife Duffin, but also down the imaginative and successful feminisation of the casting. Although the Easter Rising 1916 setting in many ways passed me by, it clearly worked as device to lend unity to the Irish cast’s vision of a play which they regard as subversive rather than reactionary. I’m the last person to argue for populism over intellectual content, but not only does it feel to me as though the ethos of the space demands an inclusive vision, I’d also far rather see Shakespeare performed in a fashion that provokes through a willingness to use the imagination rather than a belief in the sacrosanct nature of the bard’s language. 

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