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Kiss Me Kate, The Barbican Theatre, London

Photo Credit : Johan Persson

Kiss Me Kate is a terrific show by Cole Porter which features some lovely melodies and a play within a play storyline which follows the production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and the clash on and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show's director and star, and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi.

The set for this production at The Barbican was splendid, being made up of a 3 sided construction on a revolve, which allowed for swift scene changes and allowed movement between different areas with ease.

The script has be rewritten and no longer opens with the showbiz anthem ‘Another Openin Another Show’ this now appears later after the first dialogue scene. This number was led by Josie Benson as Hattie and perfectly set us up for what promised to be an exciting production.

Starring Stephanie J Block, the Broadway legend as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine, Block was perfectly cast with exceptional vocals and great stagecraft. She was able to play the harsh shrew as well as slip into the comedic moments perfectly. Playing opposite her was Adrian Dunbar. I took from his Biog in the programme, Adrian has no or little stage experience and this was very evident. His singing voice whilst pleasant could not match that of Block and his stage presence was greatly lacking. There was none of the virility of either Fred Graham or Petruchio in his performance. His excessive gesticulation was distracting and his constant fiddling with the fringing on his jacket irritating and something you would see in a very poor amateur production.

Georgina Onuorah as Lois/Bianca gave a different take on the role but pulled it off well and opposite her was Charlie Stemp who took the role of Bill Calhoun/Lucentio. This is a relatively small part so it was a shame to see so little of Stemp and it felt like he hadn't really got his teeth into the character yet, leaving us with a sickly sweet caricature not the cheeky gambler the character is usually betrayed as.

Nigel Lindsay as Man 1 and Hammed Animashaun as Man 2 (also known as The Gangsters) were superb. Their comedy timing and personas - greatly helped by a good script - made every scene they were in lift. Peter Davidson as Harrison was commanding, pompous and delivered the perfect caricature General to a T.

Jack Butterworth as Paul, started slow with a nice interpretation of the character but really came into his own in ‘Too Darn Hot’ which was the predicted showstopper. Adding Stemp into the number to dance off against Butterworth was a nice touch but if there has to be a winner it was clearly Butterworth.

Anthony Van Last's choreography was strong throughout but really came into its own in this number. With the fantastic lighting effects, the number stood head and shoulders above everything else and rightly received the applause and adoration from the audience.

Gary Milner as Ralph the stage manager had good stage presence and Jordan Crouch as Gremio and Carl Au as Hortensio danced and sang superbly in Tom Dick and Harry.

The lighting was a big part of this production and added so much to the overall show giving depth and focus as required.

As previously mentioned, the set was great. The scenes throughout the production are split into 'on stage' and 'backstage' and the touch of hand drawn mono sets for the Shakespeare's scenes was delightful allowing the audience to appreciate what was the play within the play.

I always listen to the audience sitting around me or when queuing at the bar or elsewhere and take into account what they think when writing a review. So, if you go to see this production, then seeing Stephanie J Block alone is worth it. We thoroughly enjoyed it as a whole and would recommend it for its joyous and uplifting escapism.

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