Surrounded by the old world charm of the Old Vic theatre, Cole Porter’s most famous work is a throw back to another era. It’s not a slick production, there’s nothing politically correct about it – but despite that or perhaps because of it, it’s charming.
‘Taming of the Shrew’ has been described as grossly chauvinistic. The plot seems archaic – father marries off his disagreeable daughter to the first man who asks; the concept of a strong willed woman being called a ‘shrew’ and being subjected to emotional abuse until she bends to her husband’s will. If Shakespeare tried to flog the play to modern women, he would probably be lynched. Luckily for both Shakespeare and Cole Porter – Kiss Me Kate was envisioned in simpler times.
Set against the backdrop of ‘Taming of the Shrew’, Lilli Vanessi (Hannah Waddingham) is a Hollywood starlet and Fred Graham (Alex Bourne) is a stage actor. An acrimoniously divorced duo, they star as Kate and Petruchio – colouring their Shakespearean counterparts with elements of their own explosive relationship. Coupled with their impressive vocals, their banter is one of the best parts of the play. Though they constantly bait each other, it’s evident that they share a deep connection (“Wunderbar”, anyone?). But as the Bard said, “The course of true love never did run smooth”. They quickly relive their stormy parting of ways when Vanessi discovers Graham sent the same flowers in her wedding bouquet to his latest girlfriend. Waddingham’s subsequent rendition of ‘I hate men’ hits all the right notes – powerful, filled with loathing and like the relationship between the two – filled with passion.
No production is perfect and the secondary leads are the downside in this one, with less than stellar acting skills and chemistry. Holly Dale Spencer stars as Lois Lane (Bianca) and Adam Garcia takes on her surly boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Lucentio). Despite having great singing voices – and some great songs to showcase them – they were easily outclassed by Clive Rowe and David Burt, who played local mobsters. Their hilarious number ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ had the audience in splits. With lines like: “If she says your behaviour is heinous, kick her right in the Coriolanus” – who can blame them. They effortlessly stole the show and more than deserved their standing ovation.
‘Kiss Me Kate’ isn’t a new play; it’s a tried and tested crowd pleaser. From school musicals to a Tony award-winning run on Broadway – it’s been done before. Under veteran Shakespearean director, Trevor Nunn’s helm, ‘Kiss Me Kate’ premiered to high expectations. And it’s met them. It’s light entertainment – some spectacular vocal performances, slapstick humour and clever banter. Just leave your thinking cap at home.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5