I’m too young to get married, or so my mother says (her being far too young to be a grandmother, you understand), so I’m not personally familiar with the tropes and pitfalls of the institution. However popular culture and personal observation have informed me that it can be a pretty good deal, provided a compatible enough spouse and an appreciation of compromise – but even in the best of matches, things can become stale, tired, forced. It’s only a matter of time before flames turn to embers, if not ashes, but the most successful marriages can find a way to stoke the flames back to life, or, some may less happily, content themselves with a brazier rather than a torch.
I feel like I’ve been married to Shakespeare. It's been so long that I can barely recall my first one, a blur thereafter of history, comedy, tragedy, a whirl of traditional and modern dress, inside and outside, well studied or new and unfamiliar. Gallant young men, wizened old kings and delightfully drunken commoners make a decent History. A cruel world, a flawed protagonist and a fit undertaker will get you there with the Tragedies, and as for the Comedies – put on some tights, find a girl who’s skinny enough to look androgynous under those silly Tudor tunics, make sure the servant’s funny and away you go, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I love it deeply, and that we’re in Oxford and get to enjoy a wealth of dramatic riches that are fast on the wane in other places is a blessing. But it takes a work like the Globe on Tour’s Taming of the Shrew to remind you that this is performance, not cultural pastime.
The Quad in the Bodleian is beautiful, and carries sound and light so well you’d imagine it was designed to hold theatre. The small cast are ravenous, eating up parts left, right and centre, singing, dancing and playing instruments to punctuate the play delightfully, and smashing character-differentiating accent work out of the park. Before the interval, Kathryn Hunt and Remy Beasley are hysterical as Baptista/Grumio and Tranio (funny servants of the highest order). Leah Whitaker brings something of the past crooner Jim Morrison to Petruchio, all dark and swaggering, but it’s after the break that Kate Lamb’s Katherina rips your heart out. The Taming of the Shrew is funny, this Taming of the Shrew’s taming of the ‘shrew’ is not.
There were a few points, specifically the musical interludes, where you felt like you probably should applaud, but were not quite sure, which was awkward. But that awkwardness is nothing compared to the beautiful gut-wrenching of Act V, that was certainly enough to spark the flames for me. Great play. Glorious setting. Fantastic theatre.