When the weather (and quite frankly the wider world) outside is frightful, a spot of Cole Porter is just what the doctor ordered in this year’s edition of the famous Sheffield Theatres Christmas musical.
Going into Kiss Me, Kate, there were whispers of trepidation – how will this revival handle the dicey and possibly uncomfortable subject matter? A play within a play, where life imitates art, it’s the story of a musical production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew – a tale of ‘wooing’ more concerned with a tyrannical ‘taming’ in which Petruchio, planning to marry Katherine for money, embarks on a torturous reign that includes withholding food and depriving her of sleep until she is too broken to argue anymore. So far, so Christmassy.
However, this spectacular production softly ridicules the pomposity of men who try to control and subjugate women. The ensemble cast are excellent as are Rebecca Lock (Lilli/Katherine), Edward Baker-Duly (Fred/Petruchio), Amy Ellen Richardson (Lois/Bianca), and Dex Lee (Bill/Lucentio). Paul Foster’s Kiss Me, Kate feels just about as feminist as this musical can be (although the open beating and subsequent sore bottom jokes can never really be ignored), ironing out much of the problematic content with a carefully judged tone somewhere between satire and sincerity, highlighting the trouble of the original material and giving the numbers a dazzling wit and earnestness. ‘Tom Dick, or Harry’ is one such moment – ridiculous and overblown but hilarious and subtly subversive. ‘I Hate Men’ is a twinkling and grandiose yet revealing delight, as is Richardson’s addictive and magnificent version of ‘Always True to You In My Fashion.’
A special mention must go to the steamy and exhilarating opening of the second half, ‘It’s Too Darn Hot’ (surely the one number that truly deserves an encore). And even more special that the show’s simmering, crowning glory is led by the wonderful Layton Williams – soon to take the lead in the theatre's very own Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End.
The band – at times brilliantly exposed to the audience alongside the stage management team – is on point and the music cleverly arranged. The choreography is slick, kinetic and droll and the ensemble numbers are thrilling. The behind-the-scenes action is sufficiently placed in the fifties to tell us that this story is from a bygone age and Janet Bird’s playful and cartoonish design conjures a version of an Italy imagined by fifties America that astutely reflects Cole Porter's lyrics and gives a Disney-like veneer that only highlights Petruchio’s Gaston-like bravado.
Modern, certainly stylish and with enough rays of light to beat away the darkness – when winter is coming, sometimes the only prescription that will do is one for catchy tunes, technicolour petticoats and glorious leggings. This is a Christmas treat not to miss, and one that in the end does feel well judged in a world where the actions of modern day ‘tyrants’ have so often grabbed the headlines. You’ll leave your seat snapping your fingers and moving your feet – feeling heady, festive and just the right amount of thought-provoked.
- Words by
- Laura Hegarty