Kiss Me, Kate continues at Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire until 16 July.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Once again, amongst the trees, under the canopy of the Kilworth House Theatre, another gem of a production delights in the form of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate.
You know the story – amongst the tabs and ladders backstage, the lead performers, once a married couple, are warring, and the company looks on in weary resignation as the battle begins to rage on the wrong side of the curtain.
Caroline Sheen and Matthew McKenna as Lilli and Fred are pitch-perfect, nodding to the passion and nostalgia of the 1953 film without straying into indulgence, and always with a contemporary irony admirably balanced.
Sheen’s sardonic wit and range of vocal expression is a pleasure to behold, as is the joy of watching McKenna’s Fred as ‘Petruchio’ desperately trying to keep the show together as events spin out of control. His liquid tenor is perfectly coloured for the role, commanding power, patter and vulnerability at will.
Monique Young and Justin Thomas play flawed lovers of a different kind. Young’s ruthless doll-like charms as Lois present a perfect counterpart to Thomas’ passionate but insecure Bill. Young is a fantastic chamelion, her Lois ready to flip into whatever mode she needs to secure her place as a star.
Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography packs its usual punch, especially considering the length of the overtures and scene-breaks, made highlights of the show with her unique alchemy of fresh twists on classic influences, and as always, undeniable humour.
A word has to be said here for Davide Fienauri as Hortensio, positively stealing the show with his cheeky flamboyance and comic timing, not to mention, as with all the dancers, an impeccable technique.
The Act II opener, ‘Too Darn Hot’, is worthy of its own show, hypnotising in its sultry underground sensuality, and a fantastic showcase for Tarinn Callender as Paul. It’s a shame that his role, and the scene in general, goes so unreferenced in contrast to the rest of the show.
Cory English and Carl Sanderson are well cast as the gangster comic-relief, and a fine job they make of it too. Instead of an energetically well-milked and tongue-in-cheek rendition of a vastly over-long one-point patter number, it is their consistently brilliant comic timing in the background during the ‘onstage’ moments which bring down the house.
Matthew White’s eye for detail and comedy are clearly on display here, and the show is, for the most part, extremely well paced.
Though the musical itself may be coming up to its 70th anniversary, it still has the power to charm audiences old and young alike. We may be at the mercy of a volatile summer, but this show is the perfect remedy.