Any fears that an all-female cast would offer a dour, accusatory version of this misogynistic comedy were dispelled at once with a prologue written for the occasion. Men playing women, a smiling actress told us, are no novelty but "Vice versa's very rare... in this odd piece/The girls do get the chance to wear the codpiece."
From then on, the good humour of Phyllida Lloyd's production never lets up. This Shrew brims with energy and invention, a light touch gilding even the usually squirm-making speech in which Katherine, now tamed, counsels two other newlyweds to defer to their husbands.
Kathryn Hunter's wiry, determined Kate uses the advice to smilingly bait Petruchio, making her soliloquy a parody of his views on spousal relations.
When he insists that she call the moon the sun if he wills it, she does not comply with suppressed fury but with the indulgence of a woman who knows she is asserting her superiority.
There is a female who brings Petruchio his slippers in her mouth, but it's not Kate. That service belongs to a large, hairy dog who rounds angrily on his master's new wife: Petruchio has so starved Kate that she resorts to stealing the creature's bone.
Yet the fun is overshadowed by the fact that the men are no more men than the dog's a dog. Anna Healy's Baptista and Penelope Dimond's Gremio, both bearded, stick their stomachs out, and sound exactly like a stately headmistress.
Meredith MacNeill's Lucentio is not so much a gentleman as a gentle girl, announcing that she burns with love in the manner of an adolescent crush.
And Janet McTeer's Petruchio, despite swaggering, striding and even miming a lengthy pee, is all woman - indeed the male mannerisms emphasise her femininity.
Nor does the all-girl romance carry an erotic charge. In the event, neither Bianca nor Kate's smooching their female suitors drew a peep from the crowd.Reuse content