"Nights at the theatre don't come much more enjoyable than seeing Trevor Nunn’s revival of Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic."
You only have to look at the theatre listings to know that times are hard.
As in the great depression of the 1930s, musical comedy is all the rage. Following Singin’ in the Rain and Top Hat, the latest welcome arrival is Trevor Nunn’s revival of Kiss Me Kate.
As a former boss of the RSC who has directed 30 of Shakespeare’s plays, while also proving no mean hand with such musical blockbusters as Cats and Les Mis, staging Cole Porter’s musical about a touring production of The Taming of the Shrew must have seemed like an appointment with destiny for Nunn. And boy, does he deliver.
Great man of the theatre though he undoubtedly is, Nunn is sometimes prone to a ponderous long-windedness both on and off the stage.
Not here however. There is instead a lovely lightness to his directorial touch, in evidence from the opening scene when the buzzy first number Another Op’nin’, Another Show, begins with a solo voice and a few notes tapped out on the piano before it builds up a tremendous head of vocal and choreographic stream. There is a palpable affection too in his portrayal of backstage theatrical life, but it is never allowed to congeal into luvvie sentimentality.
Mind you, he is fine-tuning a tried and tested Rolls-Royce of a show here. Though it is the effervescent wit of Cole Porter’s songs, with their insolently ingenious double and triple rhymes and unforgettable melodies, that are the star attraction, Sam and Bella Spewack’s book crackles with comic energy and great one-liners, while also finding moments of tenderness and hurt amid the dizzy joie-de-vire.
Hannah Waddingham and Alex Bourne ignite some fizzing on stage chemistry in the leading roles of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham, formerly married troupers who discover that their own private lives are mirrored in the vexed and sometimes brutal relationship depicted in Shakespeare’s comedy.
When Waddingham’s big and busty Lilli realises that Fred (who looks spookily like the young Trevor Nunn) has sent an exact copy of her wedding bouquet to his new squeeze, a dumb blonde ingénue, the power and pain she brings to her number I Hate Men is awesome. When Bourne puts his wayward wife over his knee and gives her a good spanking during the performance of the Shrew, he really lets fly. This show is often as disconcertingly provocative as Shakespeare’s original.
But the actors discover a lovely wry tenderness, too, and you never for a moment doubt the love that underlies their fury. Stephen Mear’s choreography bursts with wit and invention, especially during the spectacularly staged Too Darn Hot, which sees the impish hoofer Jason Pennycooke gliding across the stage while doing the splits. Robert Jones’s designs atmospherically evoke a tatty old touring theatre. And David Burt and Clive Rowe offer a deliciously deadpan double act as the mobsters who muscle their way into the show, finding every ounce of humour in the brilliant comic song, Brush Up Your Shakeaspeare with its immortal line “If she says your behaviour is heinous/ Kick her right in the Coriolanus”.
Frankly, nights at the theatre don’t often come more enjoyable than this.
Author: Charles Spencer
“Trevor Nunn's latest outing captures all the dazzle of Porter's multi-award winning musical - a night out that will transport you to the glittering days of 40s Broadway buzz.”
“Trevor Nunn’s slick and sassy musical is too darn hot.”
“Slick and often sizzling production”
Kiss Me, Kate is a Broadway classic, directed by Trevor Nunn at the Old Vic
Kiss Me, Kate tells the story of a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew and the on and off stage clashes between Fred Graham, the director, producer and star of the show, and his leading lady and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi. With music and lyrics by Cole Porter, the terrific score is shot through with wit, charm and energy, with spectacular choreography by Stephen Mear (Crazy For You, Betty Blue Eyes, Hello Dolly and Mary Poppins). This glittering production of an exuberant show-within-a-show received rave reviews. More information can be found here