kiss me kate
Thursday, 19 July 2012

Theatre Review: 20 July

Still ‘Wunderbar’, but at times Trevor Nunn takes it all rather too seriously

Written by Georgina Brown


I have trained myself to expect the very worst of any holidays so that they never fail to exceed expectations. Try as I might, the brainwashing doesn't work when it comes to theatregoing. Admittedly, there's a handful of plays I approach with mild dread, such as Tom Stoppard's Jumpers or Travesties and Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew, but on the whole I travel hopefully. And there are some shows I anticipate with near feverish excitement. One of them is Kiss Me, Kate, which is surely one of the most entertaining of all American musicals. Or so it should be.

The book, by Sam and Bella Spewack, tells the story of a creaky travelling theatre company that is staging a musical version of The Shrew, with the backstage spats mirroring and spilling over into the on-stage scrapping between Kate and Petruchio. But it is Cole Porter's sensational score and scintillatingly witty lyrics that make this show sing. How many musicals can boast such a glorious love song as So In Love, one with such cheek as Tom, Dick or Harry, or as playful as Brush Up Your Shakespeare, and a dance number as steamy as Too Darn Hot to boot?

Moreover, with Trevor Nunn at the helm of this Chichester revival, I imagined it would be especially 'Wunderbar' (to borrow the title of another terrific song). He knows his musicals as well as his Shakespeare. Perhaps that's the problem. Or maybe I was expecting too much, possibly because Michael Blakemore's production some 12 years ago was a red letter night in my theatregoing life. But where that show sizzled, this one drags; where that one delighted, this one disappoints. Nunn takes it all far too seriously and much too slowly.

It is exceptionally lavish, and that, for once, is not a good thing: backstage Baltimore, where the play is set, is nothing like shabby enough, so you lose any sense of magical transformation when the actors go on stage and put on a show. And it is seldom funny. Hannah Waddingham's hugely glamorous movie star Lilli Vanessi, who plays Kate, sings I Hate Men as if she truly does; her Petruchio, and ex-husband, Alex Bourne, lacks sex appeal. There's time, however, for this revival to find its snap, crackle and pop before it opens in London. It's not bad but merely disappointing and, despite being excessively Trevved, Cole Porter still sings.

Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 6AP, until 1 September: 01243-781312, then at The Old Vic, The Cut, London SE1, from 20 November to 2 March 2013: 0844-871 7628,

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