Review of “Kiss Me Kate”
reprinted from Dorchester News July 2007
I have to wonder how William Shakespeare might have reacted to the notion of ‘PC’, women’s rights, equal opportunities and so on. Life in his time was simple. Men made all of the major decisions and women simply did what they were told or suffered the consequences. Ah – those were the days.
Or was it so? In writing ‘The Taming of The Shrew’ he makes a bold statement about the impact that women can have, especially when they get upset. So much so that Baptista Minola was prepared to pay almost any price to the man who marries his daughter, Katherine. Needless to say this did not sit well with Kate who then went out of her way to make everybody suffer as much as possible, with particular malice being aimed at Petruchio, her suitor, who saw the winning of her dowry as his principle goal.
So what has this all to do with ‘Kiss Me Kate?’
The play cleverly borrows some of the Shakespearian ideas and brings them to life through the personal ups and downs of a motley company of actors who are touring the USA with ‘The Taming of The Shrew’. Backstage we see their upheavals, conflicts, jealousies, insincerities and frustrations – then the stage set reverses, putting us into the audience for an actual performance. However, these emotions soon spill over into the public arena and the scripted lines become loaded with meaning and menace as the actors reveal their true feelings for each. This sets the pattern for the whole show and each new misunderstanding and deceit is reflected in the way the cast play out their fictional roles.
The logistical challenges of putting on such a show would be enough to scare off most non-professional companies. But, as always, DADS, ignores these conventions. Dorchester Village Hall was not designed to be a theatre. Fear not – the creative talents of Michael Herbert and his team of strolling artisans made it possible for numerous set changes, from back-stage Baltimore to on-stage Padua and back again, to be achieved by large-scale origami. In essence, the expertly painted ‘flats’, complete with doors, windows and special effects, folded and twisted into evermore complex permutations. Everything was mounted on the largest stage yet seen in the village hall and the audience seated on platforms of varying height for easy viewing.
Did it all work? Of course it did.
On stage the challenges were of a different nature. Bad enough that formal passages required them to be spoken in true ‘Laurence Olivier’ fashion – a daunting prospect for any actor – but then came the need for modern-day American accents. It has to be said that some of the cast felt more at home with Shakespeare.
So what about the performances? Well. This reviewer hardly dared to breathe when Nancy Wing, on-stage Katherine (Kate), and off-stage actor Lilli Vanessi, became emotional and upset by the devious activities of co-star and ex-husband Fred Graham/Petruchio (Mark Wilkin). Their final reconciliation came after one of the most realistic and believable physical ‘tussles’ seen on stage in Dorchester (or anywhere else for that matter). Both turned in terrific dramatic performances.
Director, Terry Chipperfield, did an excellent job of allowing all of his actors to have moments of triumph. Who will ever forget the impact that the two ‘hoods’ (John Fitzgerald and Alex Watts) made when they first made it clear that “debts of ‘orner” had to be settled, preferably with violence? And then came Lois Lane/Bianca Minola (Lucie Hall), sex symbol, blonde to boot and real object of attention for Fred/Petruchio. Michael Herbert not only helped build the stage but, as father of the bride, strode over it with his usual combination of glee and stage presence. Alistair Macdonald as Cab driver/General Howell/crowd and member of the chorus, typified the contributions made by the rest of the cast. Everyone delivered multi-role performances with drive and enthusiasm. It was particularly nice to see so many new faces in the company, this bodes well for the future. There was even a character role for director Terry Chipperfield, resplendent in the silliest hat you could imagine.
And this brings me to the costumes. They were truly amazing. The range and quality had to be seen to be believed. Well done to Rosemary Mills and her team.
As a musical Kiss Me Kate posed a challenge for some of the singing voices of DADS, but Musical Director, John Howell, brought out the best in them and the action moved along nicely.
The technical crew, led by Simon Ratliff, produced the goods as always, even surprising the audience when a dead pigeon dropped onto the stage, having been shot by one of the gangsters.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable production, well up to DADS usual high standards.