The Taming Of The Shrew, The Globe, London

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The Independent Culture

Any fears that an all-female cast might result in 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."

Any fears that an all-female cast might result in 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 through the usually squirm-making speech in which Kate counsels two other brides to defer to their husbands, even to keeping their hand beneath his foot. Kathryn Hunter's wiry, determined Kate turns this advice into a parody of Petruchio's philosophy, flattening herself on the ground and plonking out a paw as if to say, "Well, that's reasonable, isn't it?" When Petruchio insists that she call the Moon the Sun, she does not comply with suppressed fury but with the smiling indulgence of a woman who knows she is demonstrating herself to be his superior.

There is a female who brings Petruchio his slippers in her mouth, but it's not Kate: in a switch of species as well as gender, that service is performed by a large, hairy dog who howls indignantly when Kate, starved by her new husband, filches the poor creature's bone.

Yet too much of the fun depends on our awareness that there's nothing in those codpieces. Anna Healy's Baptista and Penelope Dimond's Gremio pull their beards, put their hands on their hips, stick their stomachs out and look and sound exactly like stately schoolmistresses who have sportingly agreed to get into tights. Meredith MacNeill's Lucentio is no gentleman but a gentle girl, saucer-eyed, hair hanging halfway down her back, and sighing like a female adolescent with a really big crush. Janet McTeer's Petruchio, despite - indeed, because of - standing with arms folded, clapping other chaps on the back, and miming a lengthy pee, is clearly female through and through, and not one who poses any threat. Bellowing that "it shall be what o'clock I say it is," she claws the air as if reading a story about an ogre to a sensitive child.

Surprisingly, the anachronism turns out to be as jarring as the lack of masculinity. Since female assertiveness and freedom of movement are now the norm, the women seem to belong more to our own time than Shakespeare's. Amanda Harris's thumpingly ordinary Tranio could be any neighbour striding through Tesco - apart from the plumed hat and knee breeches.

Nor does the all-girl romance carry an erotic charge. Kate's humiliation at Petruchio's hands should be intensified by her being sexually initiated at the same time, but there's no spark of passion or pain between them. (Physically they're a very odd couple - McTeer tall, blonde, and haughty, Hunter dark and impish, barely coming up to her shoulder, but with a lower voice.)

When they kiss, or when Lucentio snogs Bianca, the Globe audience, which gasped and hooted at two men kissing in Edward II, was silent. Without the sense that Petruchio and Kate are engaged in a ferocious battle for the survival of their egos, our involvement with them is scant, and the comedy foolishly rather than seriously funny. The one joke takes precedence over all of Shakespeare's.

To 28 September (020-7401 9919)

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