Kiss Me, Kate

Reviewer's rating

The new production of Kiss Me, Kate at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury is quite simply a triumph. I cannot begin to praise it enough. Of course, it is also part of the experience of visiting a small theatre that seats about 200 people, is in a converted mill, and is surrounded by lovely countryside. I took some friends who had never been there before and also had never seen Kiss Me, Kate. They loved the setting, they loved the restaurant and they adored the show.

Paul Hart has continued the Watermill tradition of casting people who can act, sing, dance and also play the instruments so that the band is up there on the small stage as a participant throughout. There is something quite invigorating and delightful about seeing the Rebecca Trehearn, as Lilli Vanessi and Kate, also play her clarinet when she is not busy with her acting or singing; and Chioma Uma, who plays Hattie,  on violin piano, drum kit, accordion and mandolin at different times. The re-orchestration for the smaller band by Tom Attwood is brilliant, jazzy and constantly interesting, encompassing everything from the smoothness of a waltz like “Wunderbar” to the jazziest sounds for “Too Darn Hot”. Because you are so close to the actors and because the budgets require small forces and few frills, there is a kind of constant Brechtian quality to the performance that both breaks the fourth wall, involving the audience completely in the action, and stimulates your imagination.

The casting is uniformly strong with convincing individual interpretations of every role but also some of the most cheerful and integrated ensemble work I have ever seen; and the story telling works a treat. David Ricardo-Pearce as Petruchio/Fred Graham is excellent in conveying the connection between the backstage character and his onstage Petruchio. His voice is fine and his charisma is dazzling.  He was especially strong in the songs that take off directly from Shakespeare – “I’ve come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua”; “Were Thing that special Face”; and also, perhaps especially, “Where is the Life that Late I led”. Rebecca Trehearn as Lili Vanessi/Kate definitely had the star quality she is said to have by the script, with a stunning voice that can encompass easily the operetta style of “So in Love” and “Wunderbar”, the rough declamation of “I Hate Men”, and the final song. Kimmy Edwards as Lois Lane/Bianca managed to convey not only the joy of her numbers but also the character who is, essentially, a show girl being given a break in Shakespeare because of her sexual allure. She also conveyed very well, the ambition and flirtatiousness of both roles that she played. I was equally impressed by Jay Perry as Bill. His dancing and movement were exceptional and the audience responded positively to his undoubted charm. We must also single out Dan de Cruz as Battista and for his piano playing as well as his talent on a bass fiddle.  The two gangsters were funny and their “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was done as a very energetic and engaging vaudeville turn. Paul Hart and his team have done complete justice to the script by the Spewacks and the Cole Porter lyrics and music. I could go on and on, detail by detail. It is a very richly imagined and performed reworking of this classic material.

There is not a dud song in the show and this is a wonderful way to experience this musical. The sets and costumes by Franki Bradshaw take you back to the original period of the first performances of the show (1948) and Paul Hart his team have tweaked the script and its interpretation to make it relevant and thought provoking for today’s audience.

I think this production deserves a West End transfer; but just in case it doesn’t get one, do all you can to get to the Watermill to see it before it ends its run there. This version of the musical is unmissable! You will also enjoy the venue and its setting. And believe me, it is really worth the effort.