The Taming of the Shrew @ Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Jo Clifford's new version of Shakespeare's classic The Taming of the Shrew masterfully shines a light on society’s gender roles

Review by Chris Dobson | 25 Mar 2019

There’s no two ways about it: William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a misogynistic play. Should it therefore no longer be performed, or do we have to see it in its original context? Jo Clifford’s radical (re)production of this 400-year-old comedy shows that you don’t have to do either of these things.

In this co-production by Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre and Glasgow’s Tron, writer Clifford and director Michael Fentiman invert the play’s genders, so that the male characters become female and the female characters male. In a play originally about male domination and female oppression, this is completely transformative. What would the world be like if patriarchy were swapped for matriarchy, misogyny for misandry? 

Matt Gavan is Kate, the shrew of the title. He is loud, aggressive and independent-minded – everything, therefore, that men aren’t supposed to be. In the world of the play, it's the women who are in charge, with the men possessing little to no autonomy over their own lives. When Petruchio (Scarlett Brookes) sets eyes on the headstrong Kate, she's determined to make him her husband, regardless of Kate’s own wishes. After their hasty marriage, Petruchio sets to ‘taming’ Kate, bullying him into submission by depriving him of food and sleep.

A lot more is packed into the hour-and-fifteen-minute runtime: Bianca (François Pandolfo), Kate’s sister, is wooed by three women, and original music and asides to the audience are used to break the fourth wall and elaborate on the play’s themes. These postmodern elements are often quite amusing, but they are at times overly didactic and distract from the fascinating psychological power struggle between Petruchio and Kate. Madeleine Girling’s set design evokes a gladiatorial arena, which serves as the battleground for the war of the sexes depicted in the play.

Gavan’s Kate is deliberately irritating, but we nevertheless sympathise with him because he's mentally tortured and ground down by his wife. Brookes’ Petruchio, meanwhile, is an ambiguous figure: is she just a villain, oppressing her husband in the same way that many men oppress their wives, or should she be celebrated for putting the man in his ‘rightful place’, with his hand beneath his wife’s boot? Whatever your interpretation, the play masterfully shines a light on our own society’s gender roles by playfully inverting them, revealing their inherently performative nature.

The Taming of the Shrew @ Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 30 Mar