Friday, July 26, 2013

The Taming of the Shrew (Film review)

Frances, our president, went to see the film of the Globe's The Taming of the Shrew last Sunday. Here is her take on the production.

I went with a friend to see The Taming of the Shrew. She had not seen a performance before, but had read the script, and expressed alarm at its lack of political correctness.

This Globe production was wonderfully funny, with abundant physical and verbal comedy in the first half, but the laughs faded somewhat after the interval as Kate’s torture proceeded, though Grumio still provided some delightful humour with his dead-pan delivery.

By the end, of course, the mood was considerably lightened with an amusing turn of the tables as Bianca and the widow showed their true natures to their new husbands, contrasting with the sweet harmony exhibited by Kate and Petruchio.

Afterwards my friend and I compared notes. Even while admitting great admiration for the acting and staging of the whole play, she remained concerned that Kate had been browbeaten into subjugation and was not happy. I saw it rather differently. For me, Kate had won. The balance of power began to shift after the tailor’s visit, and Kate’s strategy seemed clear on the road back to Padua. She agreed calmly to Petruchio’s absurd quibble about the sun and moon, and when Vincentio appeared she had obviously decided to press Petruchio’s tricks to their ridiculous extremes, triumphantly obliging him to rescue her from the silly situation he had created. Petruchio’s behaviour from then on became steadily more reasonable and they created a charming sense of a growing and warm mutual affection.

 In the final scene we have Kate’s problematic description of the conduct proper to a wife. Taken at face value, it’s enough to make any self-respecting woman of the 21st century see red, and my friend was righteously indignant. However, I felt that Kate gave the words a subtle but definite touch of irony, enough to suggest that this was an effective recipe for matrimonial comfort without implying total surrender of the woman’s autonomy. At the end, as she knelt submissively, Petruchio knelt too, and the play concluded with their joyful embrace and happy exit. This suggested to me that they were set on a path of mutual respect and equality, and it was very clear that the future of the other couples would not be nearly so rosy.

By starting the play with the full Induction scene, the director found another way to take the sting out of the gender war. The whole story became a play (within the play) to entertain the drunken Christopher Sly, so setting the action at one remove further from reality. In addition the same actor played both Sly and Petruchio, giving the story a sense of its being merely Sly’s imaginings.

By chance I heard a news item after returning home, which made me think again about Kate’s (and Bianca’s) situation at the beginning of the play. A very young girl from the Yemen had put out a plea, via YouTube I think, for her rights to her own childhood, and an education, and the right not to be married to a man chosen by her elders before she was even in her teens. She was eloquent and brave, and for me provided an interesting counterpoint to the situation depicted in the play, which must have been taken for granted by audiences for most of the play’s life.

Director: Joe Murphy
Running time: 180 mins
Stars: Remy Beasley, Becci Gemmell, Kathryn Hunt, Kate Lamb, Olivia Morgan, Joy Richardson, Nicola Sangster, Leah Whitaker

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