'The Taming of the Shrew' review — this absurd take on Shakespeare's play is riotously entertaining

Read our review of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Jude Christian, now in performances at Shakespeare's Globe to 26 October.

Isaac Ouro-Gnao
Isaac Ouro-Gnao

Do we still need The Taming of the Shrew? There are ongoing debates by historians and critics alike about whether the play’s dark, sexist jokes have echoes of what we would now define as abuse. However, in this new retelling of the play, director Jude Christian opts for a strikingly absurd, surreal take.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a 15ft sand-coloured prosthetic baby sprawled like a giant bean bag across the stage. With blue love hearts for eyes and a large slit across its chest for entry and exit (designed by Rosie Elnile), the tone is set: this is The Taming of the Shrew as you’ve never seen before.

Nine rosy-cheeked actors burst onto the stage, looking like characters from a distorted fairytale. It’s announced they will be performing a play called Who’s Gonna Get Bianca, with roles assigned through a lucky paper draw. There’s a lot of new text added here, alongside a mix of 16th-century and modern costumes, bringing a new energy to the play.

Nigel Barret’s Gremio is an instant fan favourite. “It’s not a panto?” he asks, to a barrage of laughter. Also vying for Bianca’s hand is Hortensio (Lizzie Hopley), who has a penchant for rolling his 'R's and enunciating his sentences to death. The hilarious pair are always scheming or galloping across the stage in caricatured ballet steps – to the audience’s delight.

Christian’s bold direction shines in the pastiche but falters when broaching the topic of the ‘Shrew’. The intricate yet disjointed web of characters are either silent or complicit in getting the ‘cursed’ Katharina (Thalissa Teixeira) wed and out of the way in order to court her younger sister, Bianca (Sophie Mercell). Mercell is captivating as the doe-eyed maiden, speaking via a puppet version of herself throughout.

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Andrew Leung plays Petruchio with great skill, charming when courting Katharina, then switching to extremely unlikable when ‘taming’ her. Leung’s cruel and cunning delivery of “For I am born to tame you, Kate,” is hair-raising.

However, Katharina is rather sidelined. She’s spoken about rather than spoken to, and when she does speak, the scene is brusquely moved on (“Next!” is shouted several times by an in-character stage manager). As such, there’s little time to connect to her.

Teixeira is adept with the limited time given, dexterous in slipping between states of panic and obeisance. The theatrical device is clear – we’re made to feel as confused and lost as she does – but the packing in of so many absurd elements undercuts the emotional climax.

There are also too many different accents used, which confuse and distort the dialogue (Tyreke Leslie’s Tranio unveils a harsh, caricatured Southwestern Nigerian accent), and the musical and dance numbers don’t feel integrated enough.

Still, there’s a lot to engage with in Christian’s unusual take on the play. The cast are talented and compelling, and there are plenty of laughs throughout in this entertaining, playful and riotous comedy.

The Taming of the Shrew is at Shakespeare's Globe through 26 October. Book The Taming of the Shrew tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: The Taming of the Shrew (Photos by Ellie Kurttz)

Originally published on

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