The Taming of the Shrew – of all Shakespeare's plays – is the one I love to hate. I have seen more productions of the play than is healthy: over twenty live performances in various theatres across the world. In addition, when I was writing a performance history of the play, I squinted at approximately fifteen archival video records of performances going back thirty years; I watched feature films; I read promptbooks annotated by long-dead stage managers detailing stage business performed by long-dead actors and actresses. I experienced the play performed as a farce and as a tragedy; I watched Katherina being brutalized and I watched Katherina as a feisty feminist in lust with her Petruchio, who was going to give him hell over the submission speech. I saw directors stressing the misogyny, the romance, the sex, the violence, the farce, the class politics – and, depending on what was emphasized, Katherina's story came out completely differently. But seeing the play performed in Urdu, by Theatre Wallay, representing Pakistan in the Globe to Globe Festival, promised a whole new experience, and I was very curious to see what Theatre Wallay would make of this most infuriating of plays.
I know little of theatre in Pakistan, but Omair Rana, the production's Petruchio, speaking in an interview, talked of the lack of government support for theatre in his country. He also spoke of the wide range of theatrical traditions to be found in Pakistan, and how regional theatre is particularly grounded in storytelling. And a storyteller – in this case a lively, energetic woman, wearing a bright pink tunic covered with tiny mirrors, and a jingling coin headband – turned out to be crucial in Theatre Wallay's Taming of the Shrew. This storyteller, named Ravi, was partly a transmogrified version of Shakespeare's Christopher Sly, but she was also far more: a mistress of ceremonies, occasional bit-part player, shape-shifter and presiding genius. Played by Maria Khan, Ravi presented, framed and ultimately controlled the telling of Katherina's story.