Watermill Theatre - Kiss Me, Kate
25th July to 21st September 2019
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Wow! I’m running out of superlatives for the Watermill’s productions this year, but Kiss Me, Kate is a winner. Combine the memorable music and clever lyrics of Cole Porter with a team of twelve talented actor-musicians and sensational choreography – you’ve got to love it.
The cast are preparing for the opening night of The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore. Director Fred, also playing Petruchio, is having trouble with Lilli, his petulant leading lady and former wife. Their onstage fiery encounters match what happens offstage, but as they reminisce (Wunderbar) there’s still a flame waiting to be rekindled.
A large cast plus instruments can be problematical on the Watermill stage, but there’s no overcrowding here thanks to Oti Mabuse’s fast and fun choreography – Too Darn Hot is amazing.
The acting and singing are excellent all round. Rebecca Trehearn as Lilli is particularly good with her strong, expressive voice and David Ricardo-Pearce as Fred deserves the applause he got for prancing around the slips and balcony to find likely ladies in the audience in Where Is the Life That Late I Led? Lois Lane (Kimmy Edwards) has been putting it about a bit, shown by her exuberant rendition of Always True to You in My Fashion. Sheldon Greenland and Robert Jackson excel as the gangsters, hamming it up in song and dance with Brush Up Your Shakespeare. And a special mention to Chioma Uma as Hattie: impressive and multi-musical (credited with Violin, Piano, Kit, Accordion and Mandolin as well as having a lovely voice) in her first professional theatre role.
This troupe would do well in any musical under Paul Hart’s skilful direction, but Cole Porter’s memorable and witty songs turn it into something special.
There is so much to like in this fast-paced, lively, energetic and funny production. It was first performed in 1948, with great success, and it has worn well. I’m not a great fan of musicals, but this has won me over.
Review from The Times.
This show is darn hot
Cole Porter's musical gets a fabulous makeover in a wonderful new staging
They really are a band of players. Putting actor-musicians centre-stage injects glorious energy into this intimate revival of Cole Porter’s celebration of Shakespeareana. If you fret at the prospect of a British cast projecting full-blown Broadway voices and mannerisms, you can leave your worries at the door; watching this multitasking, multiracial ensemble provide their own accompaniment gives the show an original flavour.
At a time when so many musicals fall back on empty spectacle, Paul Hart’s production demonstrates how much can be done with minimal resources and maximum imagination. Yes, there are a few rough edges, yet they draw us closer to the heart of the piece. Tom Attwood’s skeletal yet inventive orchestrations provide a rare emotional charge. Just keeping track of how many different instruments the actors can tackle is part of the fun.
The approach works supremely well in a musical about the joys and terrors of theatrical life. David Ricardo-Pearce and Rebecca Trehearn are a formidable match as the divorced couple whose battles overflow into a production of The Taming of the Shrew. He is all bluster and bruised ego; she is fire and ice. And in the infamous spanking scene — which can make some feminists queasy — Trehearn gives as good as she gets. There was a cheer from someone in my row as she landed another slap.
With no conventional brassy overture to set things in motion, the evening proceeds at its own, jazzier pace. Sometimes cast members stand and play as backing musicians; more often than not they throw themselves into the hurly-burly. Frankie Bradshaw’s sets are atmospheric. The choreography by the Strictly dancer Oti Mabuse is neatly calibrated to suit the modest dimensions of the Watermill’s stage.
It helps, of course, that Sam and Bella Spewack’s book has so many witty lines. And Porter’s songs, needless to say, are a joy. Sheldon Greenland and Robert Jackson, playing Runyonesque gangsters, have fun on Brush Up Your Shakespeare. On Too Darn Hot, meanwhile, Hart injects a footnote about the racial politics of the 1940s. You need to read the programme to get the full import, but it’s a point well made, and it adds another subtle layer to the song’s erotic longing.
Review from The Guardian.
Joyfully makes a virtue out of its limitations
A multitalented cast bring gleeful spontaneity and big laughs to Paul Hart’s bold production, with choreography by Oti Mabuse
"Brush up your Shakespeare, start quoting him now" – or so the famous song goes. This absurdly talented cast must have also brushed up on their singing, dancing and instrumental skills – director Paul Hart has created the first actor-musician version of Kiss Me, Kate, with a tiny team of 12. There are a few wobbly notes and the big ensemble numbers are a little ragged, but the result of this bold new approach is a chorus completely in tune with each other. Here is a version of Cole Porter’s jazz-inflected romantic comedy that celebrates the pure joy of theatrical collaboration.
Sam and Bella Spewack’s sophisticated play-within-a-play book and Cole Porter’s exquisitely varied score – which includes Latin pastiche, vaudeville show tunes and steamy jazz songs – is a challenge for even the largest cast on a big budget. But the beauty of Hart’s production is that it makes a virtue out of its limitations.
Choreographer Oti Mabuse has little space to play with but uses it brilliantly. Too Darn Hot is a study in frustrated dynamism, as André Fabien Francis and the ensemble dancers rush up to the edges of the stage, intent on expressing themselves despite the protests raging outside their theatre. Kimmy Edwards runs rings around the chorus during Always True to You in My Fashion, weaving her way through the musicians on stage and leading them in a dizzying dance of seduction.
The show is packed with sly moments of physical comedy that constantly poke fun at the potential chaos behind the collaborative process. Actors awkwardly transition from one role to the next: a comedy henchman finishes his skit and spins back towards the piano; a soulful jazz pianist suddenly finds himself in a suit of armour, blinking under the spotlights; a percussionist realises he is needed centre stage, yelps and scurries off into the wings.
This gleeful spontaneity also lights up the central romance between actors and ex-lovers Lilli and Fred, who are forced to play the Bard’s Kate and Petruchio night after night – one year on from their divorce. The sparring between this couple can often seem cruel, but Rebecca Trehearn’s Lilli and David Ricardo-Pearce’s Fred are tender and cheeky. Both do their best work backstage, sitting at opposite dressing tables and staring at each other’s reflections as they desperately try to act away their emotions.
Trehearn is a study in steely serenity as she storms through rehearsals with a stony expression on her face. Yet when she sings, what a transformation! Trehearn’s vocal control is exquisite – you never doubt she’ll hit each note perfectly – yet she also demonstrates freedom. Her version of So in Love hums with a feeling of release: here is a person finally allowing herself to be known.
Meanwhile, Fred makes love to the audience, his fellow actors and
anyone else who’ll listen. Ricardo-Pearce is that rare breed: a male
actor happy to laugh at himself. His big number – Where Is the
Life That I Led? – is a joy, as he weaves among the crowd,
hamming it up to his heart’s content. But it’s the moments when the
showboating stops that silence us. Stripped of his costume,
Ricardo-Pearce’s Petruchio sings So in Love. He hugs
himself and stands on an empty stage, a moment of truth in a life
spent playing somebody else.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Feelgood musical Kiss Me, Kate opens to wide acclaim
Kiss Me, Kate, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until September 21
Just as it began, the woman in front hissed to her male companion: "Now, no singing along."
I had forgotten just how many golden songs were in Cole Porter's score for Kiss Me, Kate, which opened on Broadway in 1948. Songs such as Wunderbar, Too Darn Hot and Always True to You in My Fashion were just some of the treats in store as the cast of 12 launched into Another Op'nin', Another Show and we began a journey that was to prove immensely watchable, listenable and completely satisfyingly-superb entertainment. You want an antidote to today's troubles? This is it.
The story follows the production of a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, from the book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. The Spewacks were asked to write the story by a future Broadway producer, then stagehand, who had noticed that the conflict between the two leading characters on stage in a standard production of the play continued off-stage.
Leading the cast of superb actor-musicians are Rebecca Trehearn as Lilli, ex-wife of Harry (Thomas Sutcliffe). This outstanding pair make the atmosphere on the stage sizzle with action as Harry attempts, in the onstage Shrew, to woo his reluctant bride and, in the off-stage story, to re-start their love story. Harry's despairing reprise of So In Love was unforgettable.
Bubbly, lively Kimmy Edwards, as Lois Lane (Bianca in the play) had some of the most familiar songs. Tom, Dick or Harry and Always True to You in My Fashion and brought them vividly to life as she tried to persuade boyfriend Bill (Jay Perry) that she really was his.
Chiona Uma made an impressive professional debut as Hattie, Lilli's dresser, but as always with actor-musician productions, it is when the whole cast are on the stage, playing, dancing, laughing, bringing the story to life that is so gloriously vital, making it a joy to watch from the first moment. There were so many small movements and expressions, many easy to miss, which made this comedy/musical particularly enjoyable.
In this production everyone was a star and the people behind it all, director Paul Hart, Tom Attwood, in charge of the fantastic music and choreographer Oti Mabuse must be congratulated on bringing Watermill audiences a wonderful get-away from your troubles evening. Find a date when you can get tickets – you'll be so pleased you did.
Review from The Sunday Times.
One of the stranger things about Cole Porter’s crowd-pleasing musical is how much of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew it contains. There’s a reason for this, of course. The jolly libretto by Sam and Bella Spewack revolves around a ragged performance of that comedy, whose leading actors’ jagged, post-romantic relationship ironically mirrors that of the characters they’re playing. It’s a nice way of getting reacquainted with Shrew, but it certainly fluffs out the running time. And it’s a shame the play without the play revels in, rather than reviles, the sexism of the original. Nevertheless, in the charming confines of the Watermill, this is a winning Kiss Me, Kate, catching fire, as it should, in the chemistry between the leads. Rebecca Trehearn is an unimprovable Kate, intelligent and sad. And as Petruchio, David Ricardo Pearce proves swashbucklingly adept at negotiating Porter’s verbal gymnastics (“I’ve come to wive it wealthily in Padua/ I heard you say, ‘Gadzooks! Completely mad you are’” and so on). Their genial mutual mistrust slaps a smile on your face from the off. And there it stays, even if, at times, it feels a little fixed.
THOMAS W HODGKINSON
There are reviews from WhatsOnStage ("an ensemble that gives its all to delight an audience that is up for a summer show that really is hot" - ★★★★), The Stage ("bursting with energy and movement... energetic, cheerful production of Cole Porter’s light-hearted musical romance" -★★★★), Broadway World ("a dazzling cast of actor-singer-dancer-musicians who flood this intimate space with their energies and talents... what a wonderful night's entertainment" - ★★★★★), Daily Info ("vigour and pizzazz that's sure to leave any audience member with a broad smile on their face... the show sizzles with energy... a rollickingly good time "), PocketSizeTheatre ("they fall short of my expectations... the show progresses in fits and starts and does not flow... the use of actor musicians failed to add to the show" - ★★★).