Musical Numbers + Shakespeare + a modern twist (+ two gunmen) = A great night out for everyone!
Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate is a musical that is based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in which a young and compliant daughter named Bianca is unable to marry until her strong-willed sister Katerina (or Kate) gets married. Only issue is, Kate has no intention of getting married at all…#awkward! However, when the confident and adventurous Petruchio comes to town, Kate is faced with a bigger challenge than she had ever anticipated.
Have you ever seen the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You? Yeah. That’s right! Shakespeare!
This tale is a battle of the sexes and Kate very much represents the women in society who are pushed down and, in light of recent events such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, this 2018 production of the tony award-winning musical classic is much more relevant that people may think.
Directed by Jo Davis, this show has everything from loveable characters to energetic dance numbers (choreographed by Will Tuckett), a strong ensemble and what can only be described, in my mind, as traditional operatic voices the send tingles up your spine and warm your heart. This show is a joy to see and will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside.
This show is full of stereotypes, which I love as a musical theatre student. The characters of Lilli and Kate (played by the beautiful Stephanie Corley) are the operatic Prima Donnas with a strong-willed mind. The characters of Lois Lane and Bianca (played by the talented Zoe Rainey) are the ditzy blonde characters that have too much love to give, too easily. The characters of Fred and Petruchio (played by the immensely talented and funny Quirijn de Lang) are typically confident – and a little bit cocky – and sure they have the ability to change a ‘difficult’ woman. Bordering on Commedia dell’arte stock characters, these stereotypes allow audience members to identify their characteristics which adds a stronger comedic value. ‘Did she just do that? Well of course she did!’ is the kind of responses you hear and find additional humour in.
Despite these stereotypes however, one thing this show has – which I was not expecting – is a male ballad near the end of the show, rather than a female one and this is a refreshing sight. The song ‘So In Love (Reprise)’ is sung by Fred and, although a reprise of Lilli Vanessi’s song earlier on in the show, Fred sings this song after he fails to convince Lilli to stay with him. This song juxtaposes everything that his character is at the start of the show. He becomes vulnerable and conscious of his feelings and sings ‘When I’m close to you, dear/ The stars fill the sky’. He declares his love for her but, tragically, not to her. But, what is Shakespeare without a little bit of tragic romance thrown in? The audience realises in this moment that Fred has much to offer besides his devilish charms and cocky personality; he has a lot of love to give. And the performance given by Lang is nothing shy of precious, heartfelt and emotional, not to mention the stunning voice that emerged from his mouth. Chills, my friends, CHILLS!
The dynamic relationship between Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi is bitter-sweet, oddly charming and is mirrored during the in-show performance of The Taming of the Shrew, though it causes many issues throughout. With nothing but endless bickering and abusive comments towards each other, their relationship is unlike anything I have seen before on stage and it is evident that these characters have a case of poor timing when it comes to their romantic involvement with each other. The chemistry between Lang and Corley is a major factor; it makes the relationship unusually beautiful and they portray their respective characters with such charm, meaning that we love and understand them more.
And what is Shakespeare without some comedic sidekicks chucked in for good measure? Played by the enormously witty and lovable Joseph Shovelton and John Savourin, the gunmen perform a very comedic number called ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ that is filled with Shakespearian puns that warms my ex English Literature heart. This song explains that the way to a woman’s heart is through poetry so ‘Unless you know Shelly and Keats and Pope/ Dainty Debbie will call you a dope.’ Despite this, the clever lyrics by Cole Porter offer an alternative reason that everyone should know and appreciate Shakespeare. And when the gunmen take out their guns and threaten you to ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’, I suggest you do so…Being one of the greatest playwrights in English history, his work should be held in high regard by everyone. As the song explains (and this is my favourite fake-rhyme from the entire song!) ‘If you can’t be a ham and do Hamlet/ They will not give a damn or damnlet’.
In this day and age, everything comes back to Shakespeare. As I said previously about 10 Things I Hate About You, a lot of modern work is based on Shakespeare plays: West Side Story (1957), She’s The Man (2006), Warm Bodies (2013) etc. Shakespeare plays an important role in the development of these pieces.
(*my inner thoughts* William Shakespeare is an undying legend and my one true love…)
Anyway, back to Kiss Me, Kate, not only is this show a great tribute to Shakespeare and his work, it is also an important piece of theatre for women.
The Taming of the Shrew has been considered a very misogynistic play due to the nature of Petruchio attempts to ‘tame’ Kate, however the satirical presentation of this aspect of the tale in the Shakespearian world of Kiss Me, Kate allows us, as audience members of a modern age, to point and laugh at the hilarity of it all. Lilli Vanessi/Kate is a symbol of feminine strength and self-worth because she fights back against a man who, in all honesty, tries to manipulate her and even though she ‘conforms’ at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, in Kiss Me, Kate the context seems different; she is telling a man that she loves him and ‘if he please/ My hand is ready.’
I can happily state that I have now seen Kiss Me Kate. Although one song will forever haunt me from a past experience (don’t ask!) this show is truly remarkable and certainly one to remember. I would recommend any lover or hater of Shakespeare to see it. You will not regret it!
Kiss Me, Kate is playing at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane until Saturday 30th June 2018
Photo: Tristram Kenton