‘Kiss Me Kate’ at The Old Vic

IMG00752-20130201-1903I’m just emerging from a weekend busy with sociability, book talk, writing talk, gossiping talk and three theatre trips, (yes, three: Friday evening, and Saturday matinee and evening; it takes stamina), feeling that I’ve almost too much to write about, and not being sure where to start.   I’m still absorbing all the excitement of the experiences and managing the consequences of more late nights than I’m used to.

There’s nothing for it, but to take one thing at a time, and because I’m just that way, to go through them chronologically.

Let’s start with Friday night at the Old Vic, for the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Kiss Me Kate.

Recently, I’ve not been much of a fan of Trevor Nunn, the director of this revival, largely because of the dull and long-winded productions I’ve sat through.  And while there are some longueurs in this show, for the most part it is snappy, lively and just the right side of camp.

Based during the out-of-town try out for a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in a shabby theatre in Baltimore,  the fighting between the leads, and formerly married couple of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham, spills over to the on stage bickering  between their characters Katherine and Petruchio .  But really the plot is just the infrastructure which carries the clever word play and infectious tunes of the Cole Porter score; and it is packed with good songs.  It was another of those occasions for conversations which include the line ‘I didn’t know that song was from this …’, but if you’re Cole Porter and you’ve such a host of songs in your pocket, why not put as many as you can into one show.

It’s too darn hot is one such surprising tune, which could seem a bit shoe horned into the script, but which, in taking us away from the theatrical bickering and the Shakespearean pastiche, gave the choreographer the opportunity to create something spectacular and sensual, and which had the dancer Jason Pennycooke sliding across the stage in the splits.

Apart from that interlude, it was really in the singing that the performances shone, making the most of the tremendous lyrics, and some impressive soaring top notes.  It all builds slowly, so that by the time we arrived at Brush up Your Shakespeare, performed by David Burt and Clive Rowe as the two gangsters who arrive trying to recover a debt, but who end up on stage, they are able to extract every last once of fun out of the song, and eke it out across a couple of encores, so revved up were the audience by then.  And why not, if it lets us enjoy the never to be forgotten line If she says your behaviour is heinous, kick her right in the Coriolanus.

Originally written in 1948, the show retains elements which betray that it is of its time, but by performing it with a sort of knowing wink to the audience, most of the anachronisms manage to remain humorous.

I’ve come to this towards the end of its run which is at the beginning of next month, but there’s still time, if you want to see something which will have you tap dancing your way back to Waterloo station.

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