Kiss Me Kate – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By David Schuster, May 2018
The curtain lifts on the final scene of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and it’s gorgeous: Sumptuous gold and green scenery, tables laden with fruits and meats, fabulous costumes of scintillating rainbow colours laden with brocade, all befitting a lavish Broadway production. But we are not on Broadway, this is the Leeds Grand Theatre, and we are not even watching a performance of Shakespeare, this is the play-within-a-play that is Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. However, I’m getting ahead of myself, there’s so much to enjoy before this.
Jo Davies, the Director for this co-production by Opera North and the Welsh National Opera, has assembled a huge cast. I counted 48 people on stage at one point, and I may have underestimated: The programme lists 18 named characters, 10 dancers and 24 from the chorus, a total of 52! That these numbers of people fill the stage with bustle and activity, and sometimes comic anarchy, is a triumph of organisation.
Quirijn de Lang cuts a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque figure as Petruchio, whilst Stephanie Corley and Zoë Rainey both impress as the volcanic Kate and the bubble-headed Lois Lane. The two gangsters, actors Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, provide some very entertaining moments. They get laughs, both in terms of script: “Miss Vanessi, you’ve been my ideal for years. I married my wife ’cause in a certain light, when it’s kind of dark, she might pass for your sister”, and visually where they change from their pin stripe suits into Shakespearean costume, leaving on their sock suspenders.
Very early in the performance I am appreciative of Colin Richmond’s clever set design. The backdrop of pivoting panels, expertly manipulated by the cast themselves, means that we see behind the scenes for the ‘real life’ acts, set backstage at a New York theatre. One full turn of the panels and we get the audience view of Taming of the Shrew set. I’m doubly impressed when it becomes evident that a half-turn of the panels gives us an actor’s-eye view from behind the scenery to the actors ‘on stage’. Additionally, there’s a brilliant trick to the transition from Act One to Act Two, which must be very demanding for the cast, and which they handled beautifully.
“Delivered with heart”
Two solo scenes are also worthy of special mention: Alan Burkitt’s fantastic tap dance routine, and Rainey’s rendition of ‘Always True to you in my Fashion’. The lyrics to this are full of Porter’s trademark seaside postcard style innuendo, but her innocent mannerisms as the too-worldly Bianca deflect any offence.
On the subject of causing offence: I’m not even going to comment on the acceptability of the storyline of Shrew, where a strong-willed woman is forced to see the error of her ways until she accepts everything her husband-to-be does and says. We are all grown-ups here; it’s a bit of comedy fluff to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, sometimes doubly funny because of the outrageous premise of the original play.
And so, here we are back at the wedding feast finale. This is a production delivered with heart by believable players. I’ve been caught up in the dual layered romance. I look around at the enraptured faces of the audience around me and know that they feel the same. As Lilli/Kate makes her grand entrance, we are all willing her to ‘just kiss him Kate’!
Images: Tristram Kenton