BWW Review: KISS ME, KATE, The Watermill Theatre
That naughty boy, Fred, has a roving eye, recently alighting upon Lois, the dimmest of starlets who isn't backward at coming forward when there's flirting to be done. But there's a show to stage, with Fred's ex-wife, Lilli, only playing Kate to his Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. They're in that "Can't live with him/her - Can't live without him/her" phase, so a little lust is rekindled in the dressing rooms, but it soon turns to aggression when the wrong woman gets the flowers and the note.
And - wouldn't you know - art is soon imitating, indeed, consuming, life as Fred and Lilli take method acting to new extremes, fighting with added verisimilitude on stage where there's not much taming to be seen.
Of course, it's a preposterous confection, but the book (by real-life feuding husband and wife team Bella and Samuel Spewack) creates the perfect platform for some splendid gags, deadpan Shakespearean dialogue and sensational songs - oh my, those songs.
Somehow director Paul Hart has assembled a dazzling cast of actor-singer-dancer-musicians who flood this intimate space with their energies and talents, all choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing's Oti Mubuse, who certainly knows how to get the most out of resources rather more limited than those available at the BBC.
What larks the ensemble enjoy! David Ricardo-Pearce has a lot of fun as Fred, hamming it up on one side of the curtain and ballsing it up on the other, while Rebecca Trehearn smoulders and scolds with equal facility, rocks a Dior-ish peplum jacket and skirt combo with studied hauteur (fine wardrobe work throughout by Emily Barratt) - and she sings like the Olivier Award winner that she is.
The principals are super, but the whole cast of 12 get their chance to shine at some point - well, at most points really. Sheldon Greenland and Robert Jackson provide wonderful comic relief as the over-educated mobsters and Chioma Uma shines on her professional debut, whether as musician, singer or dancer. Truly, they're all stars!
And then there are the songs.
Cole Porter may have felt that his style had been left behind in the wake of Oklahoma! and Carousel, but genius will have its way. Sometimes one thinks his supreme gift is as a lyricist, other times as a composer - but most of the time you just ease back and let a master entertain with warmth, wit and wisdom.
Take your pick from classic after classic. Kimmy Edwards goes full diva on "Always True To You In My Fashion" to bring the house down. David Ricardo-Pearce pantos up "I've Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua", milking it for all it's worth. Rebecca Trehearn convinces with the scarily direct "I Hate Men", and what a delight it is to hear "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" delivered with such light comic timing by our two lovable heavies.
There's an edge too. We're in Baltimore under the Jim Crow laws, so "Too Darn Hot" becomes a description of life under such inhuman conditions, André Fabien Francis providing the vocals and the simmering anger, President Trump providing the contemporary context.
What a wonderful night's entertainment - let's hope this production travels around the country, as some of its predecessors from this lovely little theatre have in the past. If so, don't miss it!
Photo Pamela Raith.