It’s curtain time and away we go – another opening, another show! So begins Cole Porter’s ambitious, raucous musical, now revived for a short run at the London Coliseum. But the question remains – should this show have been opened in London, today?
At first glance it’s frivolous. Self-indulgent, sure, but a bit of fun. The central plot revolves around the simmering tensions backstage a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew; love triangles abound and the two principals, divorced couple Lilli and Fred (Stephanie Corley and Quirijin de Lang) are faced with a series of ludicrous obstacles as they try to rekindle their romance.
It’s farcical, and sweet, and classic – the jazzy-operetta score of Cole Porter is hard to fault and the set (Colin Richmond) is lovely.
The only thing is, it’s problematic for the inner feminist. Of course The Taming of the Shrew is problematic enough to begin with, but that’s Shakespeare for you. Kiss Me Kate takes the story in another direction, with a stumbling step towards creating strong female heroines (albeit over- sexualised and ultimately helpless without a man). However, even with this dubious source material it is interesting that even in 2018 the direction from Jo Davies sees Corley physically overpowered, pushed around and physically hit. It didn’t sit well.
Part of this is that as a production, it feels…unimportant. Frivolous. Escapism, pure and simple – you don’t want to think about children in cages at the Mexican border? Boom! You don’t have to, now all you’re thinking about is how good Alan Burkitt (a wonderful Lucentio) is at tap dancing! And that’s okay. It has it’s place. The only problem of course, is that if the only point of a production is to be entertaining, then at least it sort of has to be, well, entertaining. And that is something that Kiss Me Kate does not always manage. For one thing, it is at least half an hour too long, which perhaps explains the mass exodus of disgruntled, sweaty theatre-goers long before the final bows. One idea would be to curtail the endless reprises of songs like ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’, instead of stubbornly churning out the four hundred verses we are treated to.
The cast can’t be faulted; the leads are strong and supported ably by a talented ensemble. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin are exceptionally funny as the two inept gangsters and Stephane Anelli is fantastic leading the Act 2 opening number ‘Too Darn Hot.’ The ensemble have a great energy and work seamlessly together. It’s just – a funny choice. If there’s one thing you would have thought the West End could have done without, it’s a production about a man demanding a woman kiss him. If there’s two – it’s another reprise of ‘Always True to You in My Fashion.’ Enough, quite frankly, is enough.
These tickets were very kindly provided by London Box Office.