Kiss Me, Kate!

Date 8th March 2023
Society Astwood Bank Operatic Society
Venue The Palace Theatre, Redditch
Type of Production Musical
Director Bev Hatton
Musical Director Mike Dhonau
Choreographer Naomi Beckford
Producer Bev Hatton
Written By Cole Porter, Sam & Bella Spewack


Author: Chris Davies

It was Another op’nin’, another show for Astwood Bank Operatic Society, as we were welcomed in to the Palace Theatre on a snowy evening for their performance of Kiss Me, Kate.  It was great to see Cole Porter’s classic getting an airing – for the first time in ABOS’s seventy three years – and the cast and crew certainly did this great musical justice. 

The plot of Kiss Me, Kate focuses on the warring couple of Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, whose love/hate relationship mirrors that of their characters Petruchio and Katherine, and their musical production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  Things are complicated further by a pair of hoodlums who arrive to collect a gambling debt, and who end up forcing a reluctant Lilli to continue with the production as a way of getting their cash.  Meanwhile, Bill Calhoun and Lois Lane play out their own relationship drama, and the show, of course, goes on!

As Fred and Lilli, Ben Moore and Jo Hargreaves anchored the show with a pair of very good performances.  They had a believable chemistry, and both showed off strong singing voices as they belted out classics such as So in Love, I Hate Men and Where is the Life that Late I Led.  Jen Nunn was a confident, flirty Lois Lane, alongside Simon Paget as the hapless Bill Calhoun – Always true to you being a particular highlight.  Malcolm McGillivray manfully filled three roles in total, trebling up as Harry, Baptista and Harrison, whilst Hayley Hemmings and Michael Treagust (sporting a very good accent) made the most of their opportunity to Brush up your Shakespeare as the two gangsters. 

The principals were supported by an ensemble of twenty-five, including a six-strong team of dancers.  I particularly enjoyed the little opening scene that accompanied the overture, which gave us a nice introduction to the cast and setting, without a word having to be said.  The ensemble contributed well to the musical numbers, with the dancers delivering some nice choreography by Naomi Beckford.  I liked the contrast between the relaxed 50s style for the backstage sections, and the courtly Elizabethan dances in the performances of the Shrew.  Mike Dhonau led a ten-strong band who provided excellent musical accompaniment throughout.

Director Bev Hatton kept things moving smoothly, in particular during the complex ‘play within a play’ scenes.  At one point, the audience was also joined by the two gangsters for a nice bit of banter before their showstopper.  I did notice a bit of first-night tentativeness from time to time, and perhaps there could have been a little more conviction from the ensemble at large, really following through on their movements during the dance numbers.  And it’s amazing the difference it makes when performers smile!  A word then for Christa Gaskell, who led the way in this respect and also delivered a good rendition of It’s too darn hot at the beginning of the second half. 

The various sets needed to deliver this show – from Fred and Lilli’s dressing room, to the backstage part of the theatre, to a street in Padua – worked well, although I was a bit puzzled by characters apparently entering through the dressing room wall on occasion!  I also wondered whether it was necessary to strike that set in the middle of a song, especially as a blackout and pause immediately followed.  Having said that, the backstage team worked very efficiently.  Kiss Me Kate is a challenge for any wardrobe department, which is required to clothe the entire cast in both 1950s and Shakespearean costume, but I’m happy to say that it was very well met, with the cast decked out in colourful outfits appropriate to each period. 

My thanks to everyone at Astwood Bank Operatic Society for their very warm welcome (on a very cold evening!) and for providing a great night out at the theatre.  It was, how shall I say, Wunderbar!