The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Caroline Byrne for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 6th August 2016
Reviewed by Emer McHugh, NUI Galway
For the last year or so, I’ve kept an eye on the programming schedules for the major theatres in the UK and Ireland for 2016. When you work on Shakespeare and Ireland in a major anniversary year such as this one – a Shakespeare 400/1916 double whammy, as you’ll have seen looking at this blog’s archives – looking at how major theatrical institutions mark these commemorations becomes of major interest. (I even had a makeshift scorecard at some point.) For example, the National Theatre are doing The Plough and the Stars; the Abbey did the same, as well as bringing Joe Dowling back to the theatre with Othello (interestingly, it was initially marketed as a ‘state of the nation’ play, a description that disappeared from the website as the run began). But, I don’t think I ever would have expected a combination of both commemorations to come from Shakespeare’s Globe. Then again, new artistic director Emma Rice continues to be full of surprises. And thus, we have Caroline Byrne’s The Taming of the Shrew, set in 1916 Ireland with an Irish cast and crew.
To be sure, this Shrew deals in a broad, globalised, commoditised Irishness – the musicians played their jigs and reels (strikingly reminiscent of Riverdance at times, of course) on the bodhrán, tin whistle, fiddle, and guitar for the crowd’s pleasure: all the audience needed were pints of Guinness and we’d be at a seisiún right there and then. The characters’ accents and dispositions varied from person to person, region to region: Edward MacLiam’s Petruchio was reminiscent of the Limerick comedian Tommy Tiernan, with slight Northern tones. Aaron Heffernan’s Lucentio and Imogen Doel’s Tranio sported broad Dublin accents, as did Aoife Duffin’s Kate and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s Bianca who were both portrayed as upper-class Dubliners. And Colm Gormley’s Hortensio also spoke in a Northern burr. Characters either wore flat caps and breeches, or looked as if they had just stepped out of a Bloomsday celebration (take Raymond Keane’s Gremio and his boater hat and suit as an example of the latter). The text was altered to add elements of Hiberno-English such as ‘Jaysus’, ‘mo chara’, and ‘go raibh mile maith agaibh’. The world of the play, too, was noticeably Irish Catholic: during her wedding, Kate sat on top of two staircases that folded together to display a neon-light cross, whereas Petruchio’s admission to Gremio that ‘me father died’ was met with numerous members of the cast blessing themselves with the sign of the cross. None of this is necessarily a criticism of the production, per se. A lot of this Irishness generated much humour from the proceedings, and certainly I found it funny given how recognisable it was to me as an Irish member of the audience. (And, so it seemed, from a lot of the audience as well.) However, given that this was performed at the Globe, and therefore for a majorly non-Irish audience, it makes me wonder whether this Irishness would manifest in the same way were it premiering at the Abbey, for Druid, or at the Lyric.
Another important context to take note of is the #WakingTheFeminists movement: it’s particularly satisfying that a production set in 1916 responds to a movement born out of the response to a programme of events commemorating that same year. And generally, it’s satisfying to encounter feminist [Irish] Shakespeare on a major British stage, too. From the get-go, the production is sympathetic to Kate, and suggests that her taming by Petruchio is unnecessary and unneeded. From her spoken-word songs about how ‘the nation promised equality’, to her newspaper being ripped out of her hand by her own father, to the production refusing to shy away from the psychological and emotional abuse Petruchio subjects her to (she spends the second half in her torn wedding dress, sleeping on a bed with only Petruchio’s cowskin cape as a duvet) – this Shrew emphasises the implications of a patriarchal Irish Catholic society on the lives of women. In doing so, it does not provide easy answers: Kate delivers her final speech in resignation, anger, and frustration at the world she is forced to inhabit, and her relationship with a troubled-looking Petruchio is left up in the air. Additionally, it emphasises these women’s voices: instead of Petruchio, Kate is given the production’s final words through song, and Amy Conroy’s Widow has a much more expanded role to play: always watching, always waiting, quietly despairing at what unfolds in front of her. Throughout the production, she acts as Kate’s chain-smoking de facto feminist fairy godmother, providing unheard counsel and advice – to the point where the final scene appears to be a battle between her and Petruchio for Kate’s soul. (A Pyrrhic victory for Petruchio is implied, of course.) As Byrne comments in her programme note, ‘[i]t’s not a play about the Easter Rising, but it attempts to chime with the experience of Irish women’: Kate’s journey, and her trauma, is depicted sensitively and with nuance, and, in my view, provides a model of what feminist Shakespeare performance should look like.
It’s not unusual for Irish Shakespeare performance to respond to and to engage with the politics and issues of the here and now. If we reach back as far as 1999, Conall Morrison’s The Tempest premiered at the Abbey echoing the Good Friday Agreement a year before. Very recently, Wayne Jordan’s Twelfth Night at the Abbey acted as a response to Pantigate, a year before Ireland went to the polls on marriage equality, whereas his Romeo and Juliet at the Gate explored the ramifications of patriarchal societal structures. Shrew, whereas it may not have premiered in Ireland, speaks to particularly Irish concerns: Byrne states that ‘Irish women are still seeking equality to this day’, and this is reflected in the ongoing efforts of Lian Bell and her team to attain equality and equity in all sectors of Irish theatre, as well as the ongoing campaign to repeal the eighth amendment on abortion by many feminist campaigners (most recently seen in the Two Women Travel Twitter account and Brianna Parkins’ comments at the Rose of Tralee). Of course, I am not sure if all of this was in the mind of Globe audiences throughout the production’s run. I am also not sure if the production’s feminism was in every audience member’s mind either: judging by the ‘Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!’ chant Petruchio encourages the crowd to partake in very early on in the evening, as well as the cheering and whooping that greets a later kiss between the two. Both times, Duffin’s Kate is uncomfortable and unwilling to participate. So the next step, then, is for Byrne to bring her feminist Shakespeare to Irish audiences. If she does, I look forward to it. Her Shrew is vital, fearless, and willing to ask difficult questions.
Emer McHugh is an Irish Research Council-funded doctoral researcher and tutor at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, where she researches the cultural politics of Irish Shakespeare performance in modern and contemporary Ireland. Follow her on Twitter at @emeramchugh.
The 13th conference of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) is now underway at NUI Galway and there is a wealth of Shakespearean and early modern research being presented. See the full programme and check back here for a full conference report in the coming weeks.
From the Killruddery website:
‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’…
A magical and enchanting comedy, The Tempest is also William Shakespeare’s play best suited to our summer weather.
On a remote island, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion, magical spirits and skilful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. For those who are shipwrecked, trickery abounds, romance blossoms and monsters lurk in this fast-paced, musical family show.
Quantum Theatre presents a brand new production of Shakespeare’s magical play of love and sorcery, of airy spirits and drunken sailors, of deep truths and theatrical illusion.
‘Oh brave new world that has such creatures in’t…’
There will be barbeque available from the Tea Room before the performance and during the interval. Picnics are welcome during the performance. You will be seated on the grass, so we recommend bringing a cushion and a blanket for your comfort, and dress for the outdoors.
National Heritage Week is upon us once again and there’s a wide range of Medieval and Renaissance events taking place around Ireland. We’ve cherry-picked just a few of these fabulous historical, cultural, and artistic events which aim to build awareness and education about Ireland’s heritage. Please see the National Heritage Week website for details on these and the many other events taking place around the country.
On August 25th, the Pearse Museum throws open its doors for an evening of dramatic readings from some of Patrick Pearse’s favourite Shakespeare plays. And in case you have missed it, this will be a great opportunity to view the museum’s Pearse and Shakespeare exhibition.
The Royal Irish Academy hosts the “Book of Fenagh 500th anniversary exhibition” from August 22nd-26th. Showcasing Irish manuscripts, the exhibit will include the famous Annals of the Four Masters which chronicle Irish history. The RIA will also host a lunchtime lecture entitled “From medieval text to mobile: folk medicine in Irish tradition” on the 24th.
On the 21st, the National Print Museum hosts Printfest where kids can get a chance to be apprentices for the day. Additionally, the Museum’s daily interactive guided tours are free of charge for Heritage Week.
On the 27th, Archaeofest in Merrion Square Park promises even more fun for the whole family with historical re-enactments and archaeological digs, and make sure to look out for the Bouncy Dolmen!
On the 24th, the National Library of Ireland offers what promises to be a fascinating peak behind the scenes with a talk on conserving manuscripts from the sixteenth century to modern day books.
The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland throws open its doors for special tours that look back over 350 years of medical history (booking required.)
If castles and Medieval history are your thing, then there’s a smorgasbord of choice in Dublin. On the 20th, 22nd, 24th, 26th, and 27th, the Friends of Medieval Dublin will hold free walking tours that explore the city in the Middle Ages. Throughout the week, there are tours of Rathfarnham Castle where you can see 16th century gun loops, 17th century panelling, 18th century ceilings and hear the story of Philip Wharton, the infamous Rathfarnham Rake! At Swords Castle on Saturday 27th, a range of talks on its history culminates in a tour. You can’t miss either the tour of Archbold’s Castle, a late Medieval tower house located in Dalkey, on August 27th and 28th. Christ Church Cathedral has a range of events on offer, but Medieval and Renaissance enthusiasts may be interested in its “1016-2016 walking tour” on August 22nd, led by historian Mike Neill.
Kildare town will host a Medieval Festival on Sunday 21st August. This event promises fun for the whole family – events include Medieval games and activities, puppet shows, music, a food & craft fair, falconry, street theatre, walking tours and much more. Visitors are most welcome to attend in costume!
Castledermot Community Library will host a talk entitled “1348 – A medieval apocalypse” on the 26th August. Focusing on the lives of eight people, from earls to outlaws, the talk will take you on a journey through the chaotic world of 14th century Ireland.
On 24th August, journey to Athy for a walking tour of the Medieval town, departing from the Athy Heritage Centre. The Centre is also holding a Medieval festival evening on Friday 19th with the theme of “Introducing the Fitzgeralds”.
Journey to the picturesque village of Inistioge, on the river Nore in Co. Kilkenny, for a guided walk on Sunday 28th exploring its history as a walled town in the medieval and early modern period, c.900-1700. While there are also a range of tours and talks on in Kilkenny city, Paulstown and Castlecomer during Heritage Week.
Drogheda Museum will hold a family fun day on the 28th with free guided tours, child friendly re-enactments of an archaeological dig, folklore storytelling for children, firing of the famous Millmount Cannons, music, and battle re-enactments.
A fine offer comes from the Old Mellifont Abbey in Tullyallen, Co. Louth – it invites all epicureans and Medieval enthusiasts to come along to “Taste Medieval Ale and Mead” on the afternoon of 28th August.
Wexford will hold a Walled Town Medieval Day on the 27th. Some of the delights on offer include falconry displays, children’s digging pits, Viking shield making, medieval pottery making, a medieval archaeology exhibition, and guided walking tours of town wall.
On 23rd August you can enjoy a guided tour and animated talk on the history of St Peter’s Church, on North Main St., including a look at how the city has grown and changed around Cork’s oldest church which dates back to 1270.
On the 21st and 28th, Baltimore Castle (known also as Dún na Séad castle) will host a talk on Baltimore piracy from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. In the surroundings of this Norman Castle, which housed the O’Donnell clan for several centuries, visitors will learn about the castle history and an infamous historical event – the Sack of Baltimore by Algerian pirates in 1631.
Youghal Medieval Festival will take place on 21st August. This is the tenth year the event has been held and it takes place in St.Mary’s College Gardens. These Medieval gardens are within the 13th century town walls and showcase Youghal’s unique history and heritage. This year’s festival will feature Medieval battle re-enactments, Medieval cookery displays, archery, and blacksmith displays. The kids’ kingdom will feature traditional Arts and Crafts making (including ‘make your own shield’!) and much more.
On the afternoon of Friday 26th, the Schoolhouse at Muckross Traditional Farms will host a special talk on book and manuscript preservation with Master Binder, Paul Curtis.
While in Killarney, you can catch one of the tours of the impressive Ross Castle, overlooking Killarney lakes, on Sunday 28th August. Built by the O’Donoghues in the fifteenth century, Ross Castle was the last castle to surrender to Oliver Cromwell’s roundheads in the mid-seventeenth century.
In Tralee, visit the Kerry County Museum for a guided walking tour to discover the vanished medieval town. Free entry to the Medieval Experience before or after the walking tour is also part of this Heritage Week event. Visiting the Medieval Experience is also free on Sunday 28th.
Throughout Heritage week, you can tour the Hall of the Red Earl, a fascinating 13th century building on Druid Lane and the oldest archaeological site to be excavated in the heart of Galway city. Guided walks on Galway’s Medieval Treasures will held on the 23rd and 25th, and they depart from the Hall of the Red Earl.
On 25th August, the Woodford Heritage Centre will host a talk entitled “The Burkes of Clanrickard in Tudor Times”, focusing on some famous battles and lives of Irish earls in the sixteenth century.
The Loughrea Medieval Festival, from 26-28th August, has something for everyone – from archery displays to medieval heritage talks, medieval combat displays to medieval cookery demonstrations, and the fantastic Loughrea 780 Parade.
On 27th August, the Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre hosts “Talk about & walk about the Battle of Aughrim”, a lecture on this famous battle between the Jacobites and the forces of William III in July 1691.
On Sunday 28th, Donegal Castle will host a Medieval Fun Day for all the family. Situated on the river Eske, the castle was built by the O’Donnell chieftain in the 15th century, and has extensive 17th century additions.
In Clonmel, Finbar Dwyer author and creator of Irish History Podcasts will talk on “Prostitution in Medieval Ireland”. This talk, on 24th August, will present an intriguing account of a precarious life on the fringes of medieval society.
On Saturday 20th the Square in Newcastle West will come alive as reenactors from Bran Dubh Living History Group don full medieval costume to present a display of weaponry and medical tools at the castle.
For details on these and other events taking place during Heritage Week 2016, see the National Heritage Week website.
Globe, 06.08.16, with Giulia, Nicola, Marco, and others
In a year of multiple anniversaries, Caroline Byrne’s Taming of the Shrew stages two at once: Shakespeare celebrating his 400th death-day against the centenary of the Easter Rising. This is a striking, elegant and thought-provoking Shrew, with an excellent all-Irish cast, lengthy interludes of Irish music at the top of each half, and added songs which attempt to situate Katharine’s personal rebellion in relation to a historical political uprising. The Dublin setting is a relatively token framing gesture – mentions of Padua, Pisa and Mantua in the text go unchanged – but it is an effective collision of ideas insofar as it draws attention to the voices left behind by any given revolution. An Irish staging of this play notorious for its gender politics also seems particularly appropriate at a time when the Waking the Feminists movement has so much energy in Irish theatre.
Though its unusual setting makes this production seem on the face of it to be a different beast from other Shrews, it ultimately comes with all the same dilemmas: what do you do with a play which clearly believes itself to be a comedy, but whose cruel ending we cannot possibly celebrate? The final scene is the acid test: Katharine, formerly famed for her outspokenness and independence, lectures the other women at some length on the obedience a wife owes to her husband. We can only assume this was a desirable conclusion at the time of writing – Shakespeare and his audience must have believed that neither Katharine nor Petruchio could live happily ever after without her capitulation. The Globe’s convivial atmosphere tends to encourage productions to play for laughs, which compounds the existing issue – the space and the text both want us to accept a comic and indeed romantic understanding of Katharine and Petruchio’s relationship by the end of the play. A lot of productions have tried to recast the moment as a practical joke played by the couple on the other characters. Bolder productions play it straight, shaming the play for trying to be a comedy and shaming the audience for wanting it to be one (the most uncomfortable moment in this production is when the audience are encouraged to chant ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’ at Katherine). In this case, Katharine’s speech is sincere and exhausted; the other characters respond with growing horror as she goes on, as though realising for the first time that ‘taming’ is not particularly good joke. Naturally, given that this is the Globe, the serious mood does not prevent an exuberant jig afterwards.
The whole of the second half has an underlying bleakness to it which anticipates the finale – Kate stays in her wedding gown, which becomes more and more ragged, exposing the skeletal underskirt; the marriage bed is just a wooden frame at a precipitous angle on a heap of dirt. It’s quite a shift of tone from the first half. The shenanigans perpetrated by Bianca’s many suitors are played up with physical comedy and oversized elaborate props, including a full-sized model skeleton, an abacus, and (of course!) a globe. Lucentio enters on a scooter, beaming at the audience. The jazzy tweeds and plaids of the men’s costumes contribute to a comic mood. The surfeit of suitors makes this plot-strand work best as broad slapstick, in this case providing a foil to a much more serious treatment of the Katharine/Petruchio plot.
Aoife Duffin gives an impassioned performance as Katharine – she defiantly reads a newspaper in an early scene, unapologetically scratches her arse and picks her nose in front of her sister’s suitors, sings the interpolated ballads with enormous feeling, and gradually withers with exhaustion as the second half goes on. Amy Conroy as the widow gets a lot of laughs out of a near-silent performance, staring into the audience in indignation as the male characters casually pass around misogynist insults. All of the male servants are played by female actors – perhaps as a commentary on the play’s inbuilt assumptions about a woman’s role in marriage. Imogen Doel’s Tranio stands out – nearly every line comes with a wink at the audience and a lot of energetic clowning; the production also gets a lot of comic energy out of the size difference between her and Aaron Heffernan’s handsome but gullible Lucentio.
My main reservation about this production – which is partly a criticism of the whole season rather than of this show – is how little it seemed to belong in the Globe. In the first half, some of the sexist jokes were addressed directly to audience members, but as it got dark the stage lights came up, enforcing a division between stage and audience that I’ve never felt in that theatre before. The set was effective and adaptable, but it effectively boxed in the whole existing backdrop and replaced it with the kind of multi-level set that could have been seen in any indoor theatre in London. The jig and the last-night ritual of speeches and rose-tossing restored the Globe’s familiar atmosphere, but it was clear here as in Macbeth that adding more lighting and sound equipment to the Globe stage has a significant effect on the experience.
Review by Edel Semple
The conjunction this year of the centenary of the Easter Rising and the quadricentenary of Shakespeare’s death have proved fertile ground for arts, culture, and scholarship across the island of Ireland and further afield. In the spring, for example, Ger Fitzgibbon’s talk in UCC and Andrew Murphy’s talk at the Pearse Museum provided fascinating insights into the place and uses of Shakespeare in Irish history and literature. In London, the all-Irish Taming of the Shrew has just completed its run at Shakespeare’s Globe; the production was set against the backdrop of the Rising, though this was mostly in evidence via Katherine’s embodiment of the fighting spirit and eloquence of her rebel foremothers. (The cause of the suffragettes hovered over the production too, and on this note, a follow up production of The Tamer Tamed, Fletcher’s proto-feminist “sequel” to Shakespeare’s comedy, would have worked superbly – but I digress.) Since July, Fortune’s Fool Productions has toured some of the country’s most beautiful historic sites – Athenry Castle in Galway, Castletown House in Kildare, and Dublin Castle – with its open-air production of Measure for Measure – Ireland 1916.
The director’s notes remark that Measure for Measure has been designated a “problem play” but that this production approaches and presents the material as comic. Despite the weighty moral problems the play tackles and the production’s setting in a period of socio-political turmoil, this Measure was indeed light-hearted and humorous. Notably Angelo – a man so uptight and unfeeling he reportedly pisses ice – was rendered so comical that he lacked any menace whatsoever. His frustrated passion was cartoonish; while thinking of Isabella, Angelo was hilariously overcome by desire and had difficulty walking, and he repeatedly smacked a Bible off his head when the novice misunderstood his hints in 2.4. The buoyant energy of these scenes, Angelo’s silly antics, and Isabella’s relative calm, meant that the audience were in little doubt that somehow all would end well.
Adding to the brisk pace and comic atmosphere was Elbow, played as an Irish Yosemite Sam wholly unable to keep up with the urban criminals. The poor officer was neither physically or mentally as quick as Pompey – his Bugs Bunny – and fruitlessly pursued him around the garden. Later, in a Laurel and Hardy moment, Pompey sat upon Elbow’s back and boldly conducted his business with Madam Lucia. When interviewed by Escalus, Pompey was engaged in some horseplay with Elbow and turning to find the officer’s crotch in his face, he was forced to agree with the lord that his occupation did indeed stink. The play’s dénouement was in keeping with the spirit of the production. The Duke was paternally benevolent and his proposal to Isabella was met with a shy but pleased smile, while Angelo and Mariana seemed satisfied with one another, and even Lucia looked content with her lot.
Measure for Measure – Ireland 1916 included some cross-gendered casting and gender swaps; the Provost was played by a woman while the gallant Lucio became Madam Lucia. This latter change worked well as Lucia, it was claimed, had borne a child thanks to Pompey; the reasons behind Lucia’s refusal to bail Pompey, her necessary independence, and her jaded view of the world became clear and this minor character became a real force in the production.
The play’s action was relocated to Dublin and references to Irish places, culture, and history were commonplace. For example, Mariana sang the folk song “I Know My Love”, Barnadine was now “Belfast-born”, and Countess Markievicz was an inspiration for the Provost’s costume and some of the character’s interests (see the programme for details). There was an ownership and consideration of our past at work here, as the production acknowledged Ireland’s complicated history with Britain, with the Church, and with its own citizens. The thousands of women who were condemned to the Magdalene Laundries, operated by the Catholic Church, were embodied by a lone pregnant mother who scrubbed a shirt under the watchful, unforgiving eye of a nun. Mistress Overdone and her women hailed from Monto, a section in the north inner city infamous in the early twentieth century as a red-light district that drew much of its business from the nearby British army barracks. Measure focuses on the Duke and the dilemmas of a well-to-do sister and brother, but this production drew attention to the lives of other, ordinary citizens. When the Duke, Angelo, Isabella, and Claudio took centre stage, the fortunes of the working class poor were pointedly played out on the margins of the space; a poor country girl sought help at the castle door (it remained shut), prostitutes advertised their wares to the audience on the streets (garden paths), while civil and church servants went about their business in the prison and government offices (walled areas). All of this worked well but the shift from Vienna to Dublin meant that some early modern terms, such as “bawd” and “punk”, stood out; changing the odd word to Irish slang would have strengthened the clarity and humour of some lines.
Performed in the Dubh Linn Gardens, in Dublin Castle, Measure took advantage of the garden space, which had surprisingly good acoustics, and the twenty or so actors made full use of their green stage. (Seriously, a tip of the hat to Fortune’s Fool’s cast and crew as it took some energy to master and traverse the wide space and project words and emotion for two hours in the damp air and to compete on occasion with the rowdy seagulls.) The audience always had something to look at and turn to as characters entered from and exited to different locations; the space in front of the Coach House was used as Angelo’s office, the prison was a walled area, the lawns and paths were the city streets, and so on. Overall, this production was a pacey and fun rendition of Measure – it was worth braving the Irish summer weather for and it makes a fine contribution to the commemorations of 1916 and Shakespeare 400.
Measure for Measure – Ireland 1916 runs in Dublin Castle until Sunday 14th August 2016. The production is part of the British Council’s “Shakespeare Lives” programme. The show is approximately two hours long and there is no interval. The production’s programme is available here. Social media: #ShakespeareLives and #M4M-Ire1916
For more on Shakespeare 400 in Ireland see earlier posts and on Twitter: #ShaxIrl400 #Shakespeare400 #ShakespeareLives