For a relative novice to the world of Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate was a rip-roaring razzle dazzle evening which left me (metaphorically) gasping for breath at the curtain call. Opera? Musical theatre? Classical dance? Lavish costumes? All singing all dancing? Phenomenal solos? And a tap dance number to sweep you off your feet? This show has got it in spades and Opera North’s revival is one to be savoured.
This show within a show uses Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as its core; a tale with some troubled misogynistic beliefs and fraught relationships between husbands and wives that mirror our lead characters. Art imitating life or vice versa? Who knows, but with some all time classic hit musical numbers, it sure makes for an entertaining evening. In one such number entitled ‘I hate men’, Lilli Vanessi (played by Stephanie Corley) declares ‘husbands are a boring lot and only give you bother’. To say it garnered a laugh from the audience would be an understatement. It is cheeky, witty, clever and oft crude, but within the trappings of a genre a musical theatre aficionado knows and loves.
The faults lie not necessarily with the production but Kate itself – a busy first half followed by a lull in pace and an all too quickly resolved ending. While the muddle of genre is part of the charm, it is also part of the confusion as you grapple with what exactly it is you’re watching. Enjoy every scene for what it is and revel in those big cast numbers which are a real treat. As is often the case with a touring production, limitations of the space often have a part to play. Here, unfortunately, the vast space of the Coliseum and the chasm of the orchestra pit does create rather too large a gulf between the audience and the characters. Though this does not detract or devalue the strength and depth of the performances. Zoe Rainey and Alan Burkitt especially command the stage when left to their big solos – the sets dissolving around them, the audience remains captivated.
It is self consciously theatrical with each of the leads stepping forward for their big number with aplomb, and the comic gangster duo of Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin performing their front of curtain solo with nuanced wit and perfect timing. As a play, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and I would suggest you don’t take it too seriously either; just ‘brush up your Shakespeare’ and prepare to get ‘too darn hot’.
Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate at the London Coliseum until 30 June 2018. For more information and tickets please visit the website.