Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics?

Stephanie J Block and Adrian Dunbar have now opened the show at the Barbican Theatre

By: Jun. 19, 2024
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Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics?
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A new production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, starring Adrian Dunbar and Broadway Royalty and Tony Award Winner Stephanie J. Block, making her West End debut, has now opened.

The pair are joined by Olivier nominee Charlie Stemp, rising star Georgina Onuorah, Nigel Lindsay and Hammed Animashaun.

This new production is directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. With a company of over 50 including a full-scale orchestra and features Cole Porter classics such as "Another Op'nin', Another Show", "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" and "Tom, Dick or Harry".

So what did the critics think?

Kiss Me, Kate is at Barbican Theatre until 14 September

Photo Credit: Johan Perrson

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? Gary Naylor, BroadwayWorld: Stephanie J Block has 21 years experience on Broadway and, appropriately, gave it both barrels as Lilli Vanessi, the divorced wife of Dunbar’s actor-producer Fred Graham, and Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew, the play that was being put up on the other side of the scenery by our troupe of touring players. Life was soon imitating art, as Lilli rained blows, verbal and physical, on the slithering Fred (Petruchio, natch) - but you kinda knew they were the only people who could stand each others’ presence.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? Marianka Swain, The Telegraph: Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous production is particularly well attuned to Sam and Bella Spewack’s wittily Shakespearean play-within-a-play conceit, using a busy revolve that constantly whisks us between on- and backstage (marvellous lofty design by Michael Yeargan). In one bravura sequence, an argument erupts mid-show, then continues as Lilli and Fred storm into the wings and then their dressing rooms, the fast-changing set matching their rising tempers and blurred boundaries.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? Clive Davis, The Times: There’s unorthodox casting in the form of Adrian Dunbar (Superintendent Ted Hastings in Line of Duty), who is playing the actor-manager Fred Graham. He may not be the most potent of singers — at times he seems to be coaxing his voice over the hurdles — but he certainly doesn’t disgrace himself. In the scenes of psychological warfare with the Broadway star Stephanie J Block, who plays Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, he exhibits a light comic touch. Block is a dynamic presence, wringing every drop of mirth and venom from the semi-operatic I Hate Men. This Lilli is too strong and self-confident to need the protection of modern-day #MeToo campaigners.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? David Jays, The Guardian: Broadway’s Stephanie J Block and Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar play the leads. But wonderfully, the ensemble bangers showcase backstage staff. A stentorian Josie Benson kicks off Another Op’nin’, Another Show (“another pain where the ulcers grow”). And the second half ignites the languorously horny Too Darn Hot, sassily choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. Jack Butterworth’s dresser leads a dance of dirty-minded shoulders and hips, until the band rips into the score and Butterworth and Charlie Stemp have a bravura spin-off. Hot in all the good ways.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage: Reaching almost 80 years in age, the show’s flaws aren’t hard to spot (incessant bouts of sexism seem to rear their heads a fair wad). Much as he did with his lavish productions of My Fair Lady and The King and I, Sher is the perfect man for the job here: adding small interventions to the numbers and blocking to both broaden and deepen Graham and Vanessi’s relationship. It’s subtle, and never feels extravagantly overt, but does make the material far more palatable – even though the “spanking” scene still raises an eyebrow or two.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics? Tim Bano, The Independent: Block plays Lilli/Kate with a staunchness and gives-as-good-as-she-gets gutsiness that is absolutely necessary for a role that could otherwise make the gender dynamics even dodgier than they already are. Every time she gets a solo she brings the house down: “So In Love” and “I Hate Men” are models in how to control your voice, invest emotionally in a song and knock the roof off.

Review Roundup: Did KISS ME, KATE Delight the Critics?
Average Rating: 80.0%

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