Bristol Hippodrome theatre review: Kiss Me, Kate

Vivienne Kennedy reviews Kiss Me, Kate; the final show in a trio of Shakespearean themed delights performed by Welsh National Opera at Bristol Hippodrome this week. It plays until Saturday 15 October. 

My +1 asked me several times whether or not Welsh National Opera had managed to better their production of Macbeth, which I loved on Wednesday, with last night’s Kiss Me, Kate (a co-production with Opera North).

I found it impossible to answer, the two shows, although both inspired by Shakespeare, couldn’t be more different – but, yes, once again they ticked all the boxes, giving us a great story, brilliantly acted; a fabulous score, played to perfection; plus, comedy and dancing too. And, once again, I loved it!

Cole Porter’s musical play in two acts (book by Bella and Samuel Spewack) was first performed in New York in 1948. It tells the story of divorced Broadway stars Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who are rehearsing a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, creating a show within a show with their portrayals of Petruchio and Katharine.

Although engaged to another man, Lilli is jealous of a young cast member, Lois (who plays her sister Bianca), who Fred appears to be pursuing. It causes a number of rows between the pair and she threatens to leave the show.

Lois’s boyfriend Bill, a gambler, has signed an IOU for $10,000 in Fred’s name and before long two gangsters arrive to demand payment. Fred explains that he can pay them at the end of the play’s run but only if Lilli stays; without her, the show will be cancelled.

What do they do? Of course, they dress up in Shakespearean garb and, using their guns as a method of persuasion, join the cast on stage to ensure Lilli’s participation.

They later find out their boss has been killed, which nullifies the IOU, and the show ends with Shakespeare’s characters as well as Cole Porter’s all getting together with the right partners, set to live happily ever after.

Quirijn de Lang, Jeni Bern and Amelia Adams-Pearce as Fred, Lilli and Lois are all fabulous in their leading roles but I also enjoyed the performances of Landi Oshinowo as Hattie, singing Another op’nin’, another show and Too Darn Hot beautifully, and Alan Burkitt as Bill, who delivered a fantastic tap routine in the second act. And not forgetting Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, credited in the programme as First and Second Gunman respectively; they were perfectly cast as the baddies who become Bard-ies, their duet Brush Up Your Shakespeare one of the show’s many highlights.

As always, the WNO orchestra were faultless, giving a real zing to Cole Porter’s score, and conductor James Holmes was something of a character in his own right; a joy to watch as he interacted both with the musicians in front of him and the cast on stage.

Praise must also go to set and costume designer Colin Richmond for making the show look so rich and sumptuous and to choreographer Will Tuckett who has created some marvellous routines.

Kiss Me, Kate will be performed again at 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow (14 & 15 October) and if you want to experience a thoroughly good night at the theatre I suggest you get hold of some tickets. It’s proper feel-good stuff that will leave you with a grin on your face and a number of songs in your head.

Welsh National Opera will return to Bristol Hippodrome in the spring with a programme of operas entitles Love’s Poisoned Chalice – I’ll be there!

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Image: Quirijn de Lang (Fred Graham and Petruchio) and Jeni Bern (Lilli Vanessi) WNO’s Kiss Me Kate – photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

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