The name of this show always makes me laugh. Here is a musical about a couple who do nothing apart from fight, argue, cheat and defy one another. Any sort of reconciliation is going to take a lot more than a kiss. And if the infuriated Lilli does pucker up, how long will it last as she and her egotistical ex-husband vye for the limelight in every sense.
The plot turns on a group of actors who are touring the globe with a portfolio of Shakespeare plays and are currently performing The Taming of The Shew, whose lead character is the man-hating Kate. Hannah Waddingham, who plays Kate on-stage and the producer’s ex-wife Lilli off-stage, certainly brought the house down with her rendition of ‘I Hate Men’. In fact she nearly brought the ceiling down as she threw herself around the stage, hurling objects and screaming with rage at Fred’s current love interest in a lesser actress named Lois.
For Fred (Alex Bourne) is not only the Shrew’s director and producer but also plays the part of Petruchio. He is thus on stage a fair amount of the time yet fails to convince us that he feels anything for either Lilli or her competitor. And once Kate had done such a good job of convincing us that she hates men, it’s a sad indictment of the era’s sexual politics that she wants one at all, but want one she does.
As for Lois, it’s complicated. She is meant to be attached to Bill but is infatuated with Fred. There’s lots of screaming and shouting, making up and falling out. Cole Porter once summed up male-female relationships in nine words: ‘Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’. So no wonder there’s plenty of testosterone and hysterics combined with a lack of subtlety, plot and credible characterisation.
The action hinges on the singing and dancing. Some twenty numbers include ‘Another Op’nin, Another Show’ ‘Wundebar’ and ‘Always True to you In My Fashion’. One of Porter’s famous list songs ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ was excellent. As well as being the first musical he wrote where the music and lyrics were firmly related to the script, Kiss Me, Kate was Cole Porter’s comeback triumph after a terrible riding accident and several Broadway flops and the first of several subsequent hits. As a slice of his work, the show is a great selection for those who are already fans, but it’s unlikely to generate converts.
Ignoring the lack of chemistry between the main characters, Trevor Nunn’s production is slick and well served by choreography from Stephen Mear, who produced the first ‘real rain’ production of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ last year. His ‘Too Darn Hot’ routine combined with Jason Pennycooke’s acrobatics breathed fire into opening of the second half but despite comic interludes from the two dead-pan gangsters, momentum petered out and the final scenes lacked conviction. The shrew never felt truly tamed. Instead of a happy reunion, it feld slightly odd to be applauding the equivalent of a marriage time-bomb, and after three hours it was a less than satisfactory result.
Overall rating: 6/10
Old Vic, London
Until 2nd March
Box office: 0844 871 7628