Review: Kiss Me, Kate!
A high-spirited and energetic production to cap Lent term off
“It’s entertaining, vivacious and calculated to please the most discriminating theatregoer.”
Kiss Me, Kate! gets quite meta. Cole Porter’s 1948 jazz-infused musical tells the story of a theatre company whose production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew becomes ever more entangled with their offstage lives and shenanigans. As reflected above by the two gangsters in their impression of the company’s Shakespeare production, directors Gina Stock, Jonathan Black, and musical director Drew Sellis do not disappoint with this clever, energetic and perfectly polished production.
Having never seen a production of Kiss Me, Kate! before, I was pleasantly surprised to realise that I was actually familiar with many of the musical numbers- it really is an iconic musical. If you need proof, just go down to the ADC and I guarantee that you will be walking out humming “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?” or “Always True to You in My Fashion”- just a couple of the musical highlights of this show. The band, conducted by Drew Sellis, was fabulous throughout and matched the energy and intensity of the cast.
The musical frivolity of the production is also thanks to the choreography, coordinated by Gina Stock. It really has everything: tap dancing, large fun chorus numbers as well as belting solo performances, all infused with an infectious rhythm and enthusiasm. I particularly enjoyed the chorus numbers such as “Too Darn Hot” which opened the second act. The dance routine had clearly been intricately choreographed with cartwheels and cheeky winks at the audience thrown in for good measure. All the staging and effects came together particularly nicely in this number, especially the intense red lighting, designed by Angus Cha. No wonder all the cast fell down with exhaustion at the end of the song, the energy of it all was immense!
Perhaps it was because of the sheer perfection of certain performances such as Lydia Seed’s stunning solo as Lois singing “Always True to You in My Fashion” that I felt that more could have been done with one or two of the numbers, particularly in the second act. However, the cast gelled together well on stage and consistently produced memorable moments. Humour was especially effective, particularly from the two gangsters, hilariously well-played by Rosie McLeish and Christian Longstaff.
Beyond the musical numbers, many of the scenes were put together very convincingly. I was particularly impressed with the staging of a scene in Act One where the two main characters Fred, the director of the play (Jude Ashcroft), and Lilli, who plays Kate in the production (April Perrott), are side by side in the dressing rooms preparing for the performance. The changes in lighting draw our focus back and forth to opposite ends of the stage as things happen to either character in turn. The use of space across the stage is therefore used well and the staging emphasises the interplay between these central characters, whose relationship arc forms the crux of the narrative going forward.
A key issue that the directors cleverly confronted was the misogyny inherent in the original storyline. Themes such as male domination over women are apparent both in the musical as well as, funnily enough, in The Taming of the Shrew. However, a predominantly female cast went a long way towards changing this and the female characters are presented as strong and empowered. This is particularly true for Lilli/Kate whom April Perrott plays with a fantastic sense of dominance and grit as she resists Fred/Petruchio’s advances and sings “I Hate Men”. Lastly, I think the slight twist at the end makes the story arc more interesting. It would be a shame to give it away, but all I will say is that the show veers off slightly from its title!
Overall, the musical had a bit of everything for everybody. It was polished, professional and delighted the audience enough to receive a well-deserved standing ovation. Whilst perhaps more could have been done with certain scenes, the whole performance was so energetic that it had me waltzing, foxtrotting and charlestoning out of the theatre with a spring in my step. It’s guaranteed to impress and even get “the most discriminating theatregoer” dancing for the rest of the evening.
Kiss Me, Kate! is showing from the 15th – 25th of March at the ADC Theatre at 7:45 pm, with Saturday matinees at 2:30 pm. Buy your tickets here.
Featured image credits: Paul Ashley Photography