Our first review is in for Kiss Me, Kate – our latest production, running this week in Wimborne. Tickets are still available, so why not come along?
The Taming of the Shrew is regarded by modern scholars as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ because Katherina’s total submission to Petruchio at the end sits uncomfortably with today’s audiences, even those with little active sympathy for feminism. Being based on the play, Kiss Me, Kate shares the difficulty to an extent, but any discomfort is submerged by the light and frothy nature of the piece, not to mention Cole Porter’s classic tunes and brilliant lyrics. These make it one of the great musicals of the 20th century, and Wimborne Musical Theatre do it such justice that if you can catch one of their performances later in the week, you are in for a treat.
More than most musicals, the show depends on one man, Fred Graham, who is playing Petruchio in the ‘play within a play’. Mark Ward is more substantial than many Petruchios, but it makes him a dominating presence on stage and he has a strong baritone voice to go with it. Stepping into the production comparatively late, Mark Ward said that he has always wanted to play the part, and his high-quality performance is that of a man achieving a life’s ambition. Pacey dialogue is good, but he could usefully slow down his delivery slightly: a minor quibble compared with his excellence in every other respect.
As his sparring partner, Lilli Vanessi, Julie Gower shows what a first-rate actress she is. She can do shrewish, she can do meltingly attractive, her body language in reacting to other characters is just right, and in songs like ‘I hate men’ and ‘So in love’, she knows that superbly acted emotion beats volume every time.
Lois Lane/Bianca is played by Sally Ager in an unlikely blonde wig as sex on (extremely shapely) legs. She is a natural mover on stage but sings and acts well, too. You can feel every red-blooded man in the audience taking her to their hearts in ‘Always true to you in my fashion’. As usual, though, the show is stolen by ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’, sung by the gangsters known only as ‘First man’ (Frank Holden) and ‘Second man’ (Bill Mason). There are pleasant cameos from Duncan Sayers as Paul, Lee Neal as Bill Calhoun and Phil Evans as General Harrison Howell. All the cast maintain their American accents well.
Kiss Me, Kate is something of a nightmare for the stage crew, involving a lot of scene changes and some quite complicated sets, but their performance was remarkably slick for a first night. The hired sets are well designed and painted, although a bit of reinforcement would stop the wall between Fred’s and Lilli’s dressing rooms wobbling alarmingly every time the door in it is opened.
Director Suzy de Villiers has introduced some imaginative movement and some attractive dancing into ‘Another op’nin’, another show’ and that standard is generally maintained throughout, while musical director Lee Redwood has rehearsed his singers well. They must both weep into their beer at the shortage of strong young male performers; Wimborne Musical Theatre is far from being alone in facing this problem, but it does mean that the ensemble singing sometimes comes across as rather thin and that numbers like ‘We open in Venice’ don’t have their full impact.
One of the gangsters tells Fred that his The Taming of the Shrew is ‘calculated to satisfy any discriminating theatre-goer’. The same can truly be said of this production.