Kiss Me, Kate at The Old Vic
A faultless show from the doyen of musical theatre and Shakespeare.
In the nearly two hundred year history of The Old Vic, it has never once staged a musical. Until now. Yet any doubts about whether Kiss Me, Kate would fit comfortably on the Old Vic stage can be very quickly dispelled. This musical was destined to appear on that stage; the Old Vic just had to wait over 60 years for the pleasure.
Much of the success of this production of Kiss Me, Kate can be attributed to its director, Sir Trevor Nunn. Sir Trevor has been a successful director of musicals for decades and in that time also found time to stage 30 of Shakespeare's 37 plays. Kiss Me, Kate, a play-within-a-play take on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, is therefore an obvious outlet for his creative talents. Apparently, Nunn had wished to direct Kiss Me, Kate for decades, but was previously always hindered by repeated successful runs on Broadway.
Nunn has finally got his hands on Kiss Me, Kate. And it is a rip-roaring success. The singing, dancing and acting is almost faultless. Hannah Waddington, as Lilli Vanessi, is the star of the show, metaphorically and literally. Yet it is the supporting cast who make the show. Jason Pennycooke, dresser to Fred Graham, is particularly entrancing to watch as he tap-dances through 'Too Darn Hot'.
Kiss Me, Kate is one of the jewels in the crown of Cole Porter's repertoire. As a consequence, it is almost untouchable and extremely difficult for a director to make his mark. The knowing laughs from the Old Vic audience are indicative of the fact that this is a production many have seen before and adore. Nunn therefore, wisely, barely tampered with the original and it shines through.
The Taming of the Shrew, despite being classed as one of Shakespeare's comedies, is not that funny. There is a reason that the play is one of Shakespeare's least performed; its misogynistic themes, whilst partly tongue-in-cheek, remain unpalatable and un-enjoyable to watch. Yet Cole Porter's music and lyrics, and Trevor Nunn's direction, give a whole new lease of life to the play. This all-singing, all-dancing production makes for an extremely enjoyable evening at the theatre.