tue 17/07/2018

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, London Coliseum review - Cole Porter delivered in true company style | reviews, news & interviews

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, London Coliseum review - Cole Porter delivered in true company style

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, London Coliseum review - Cole Porter delivered in true company style

Just a tad short on Broadway charisma, but this sophisticated production glides along

Spats offstage and on: Quirijn de Lang's Fred/Petruchio and Stephanie Corley's Lilli/KateAll images by Tristram Kenton

First palpable hit of the evening: a full orchestra in the pit under hyper-alert Opera North stalwart James Holmes, saxophones deliciously rampant. Second hit: they've got the miking of the voices right (very rare in West End shows). Third: the first ensemble number, "Another opening, another show", sends spirits soaring. What follows is very good, sometimes excellent, occasionally fresh and startling.

Any sense of slight anticlimax may well the fault of a musical which, while stocked higher with hit songs than most (Cole Porter at his wickedly rhyming, melodically snaking best), has always struck me as something of a baggy monster. I'm always expecting more of a mesh between backstage badinage and the musicalised Taming of the Shrew served up in large chunks (what do you expect, devotees may well ask? It's Broadway, not Strauss/Hofmannsthal). That said, where illusion ends and a kind of reality begins is nicely underlined by Jo Davies’s nimble production, revived here by Ed Goggin, with Colin Richmond’s sets offering curtains to be fumbled with and sending flats whizzing, serving the Shakespeare with a Renaissance house full of familiar medieval tapestries (why not?) ironically counterpointing courtly love with the comic alternative (pictured below). Reprises and symmetries are neatly served, too. Scene from Kiss Me, KateNo-one lets the side down, but if there’s a quibble it might be over the absence of real Broadway charisma from the leads. What we get instead is numbers delivered with perfect operatic range, panache and breath control by Quirijn de Lang’s actor-director Fred/Petruchio and Stephanie Corley’s ex-wife lead Lilli/Kate (Corley sings Katya Kabanova at Opera North next season). De Lang’s dialogue occasionally has one switching off – in the scene where Petruchio shows Kate comestibles and luxuries before having them sent away, and in his outlining of the tedious time Lilli faces with her new husband-to-be – but the energy always goes up a notch in the numbers.

Note-perfect in every way, though, are the music-theatre second couple, Zoe Rainey as Lois/Bianca and Alan Burkitt’s Bill/Lucentio (pictured below). Burkitt takes us by surprise when he breaks into impressive ballet – Will Tuckett’s choreography, revived here by David James Hulston – while Rainey saves the dizzy-blonde stereotype for the play-within-the-play and makes something more real out of Lois’s irresistible set pieces. So we’re happy to have a superlative delivery of “Always true to you in my fashion,” prefaced by unexpectedly touching solo strings, with the obligatory two “reprises” in the G&S Act Two tradition. Zoe Rainey and Alan Burkitt in Kiss Me, KateThat rather steals the thunder of the three stages for the two stooges in “Brush up your Shakespeare,” for all the funny business from Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin whose too-English delivery of the gangsters' lines earlier on makes the humour of their adaptation to Shakespeare less pronounced. They do the number to perfection, though.

Strong cameos from Aiesha Pease, whose Hattie launches the musical numbers in style, Stephane Anelli giving a kick to “Too darn hot” and Claire Pascoe’s Stage Manager add to the pleasure. The dancers strut their stuff to perfection and what a joy it is to have the Opera North Chorus engaged so well again – another reminder that their less well-used counterparts in ENO would probably be on the Coliseum stage right now if it hadn’t been for the infamous Cressida Pollock’s decimation of their season. At least the London lot got their comic spotlight in ENO's terrific Iolanthe earlier this season. In spite of the bagginess here - something I don't find in G&S -  it's good to have all the music in the lustrous orchestrations of the master Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker, lovingly restored by David Charles Abell. Opera North has got it consistently right over recent years, and this is a very colourful feather in the company's rainbow hat.

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