REVIEW: Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

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There isn’t much of a chance to see Opera North’s re-imagination of Cole Porter’s masterpiece Kiss Me, Kate. But, if you do, you’re in for an astounding treat of rich musical score, superb acting, tremendous dancing and even a few laughs.

For those who don’t know, this hilarious show involves a musical-within-a-musical, where the leading pair of Shakespeare’s Taming of a Shrew are played by a divorced couple, Fred (Quirijn de Lang) and Lilli(Jeni Bern).

The opening number may profess that it is just Another Op’nin’, Another Show but, it couldn’t be far from it. When Fred sends flowers to the younger and more attractive Lois (Tiffany Graves), they are accidently given to his ex wife who goes on to profess she still loves him. She opens the bouquet without reading the note and Fred makes sure she doesn’t read it. However, Lilli takes the card with her onstage, saying she will read it later – cue a hilarious onstage argument, mid-show.

I’ve been a big fan of director Jo Davies for some time, having been completely blown away by the company’s production of Ruddigore (with Davies at the helm) some years ago.

The show has a fantastic blend of both operatic and West End voices. Taking the lead is Quirijn de Lang, a Dutch baritone, alongside opera singer Jeni Bern. The duo are pitted against younger musical theatre stars Tiffany Graves and Ashley Day. Graves stunned North East audiences earlier in the year taking the role of Ulla in The Producers and Day makes a very welcome return to the Theatre Royal in another stunning lead performance, following his recent success as Curly in Oklahoma!

Davies has very purposely made this casting decision as it shows us a very important contrast between how opera is often perceived as for older people and musical theatre for younger generations.

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Take Lilli for example, on and offstage she is shown to be a diva who is about to give it all up while Lois, who is most likely starting off in her career, is blonde, attractive and very fresh. At the end of the play there is a beautiful scene where Lilli/Katherine parades down the stairs into the arms of her on and offstage lover and finally Fred/Petruchio gets to kiss his Kate. There was a very real feeling of love between the pair and I think the type of romance that is more evocatively explored in opera.

Also, take Bill, he’s young and out to woo the ladies, Day almost brought the house down with his well-executed and stunningly-choreographed tap-dancing piece in the second half. Poor Fred’s small bouquet of flowers wouldn’t have stood a chance with Lois who was much more impressed with the material world. Again, a game of contrasts is laid on by the lead characters which is testament to the brilliance of Bell and Samuel Spewack’s writing and the exceptional direction by Davies.

But what brought the whole production together was a beautifully-rich musical score which completely blew me away. The orchestra below was, according to the programme, more than 50 members strong and took out almost all of the stalls area below.

From the opening first notes of the overture the audience were leaning forward and became captivated by the most beautiful of arrangements. With David Charles Abell at the baton, the audience were in safe hands and I was astounded at how stunningly the score was executed by the orchestra. I thought that, with the musicians being so far forward in the stalls, the importance of the musical element was brought to the front of our attention.

Opera North’s production of Kiss Me, Kate is an absolute triumph and deserves every penny of support it can get. The set was so fantastically-busy and gave a real idea of life behind the scenes and the costumes were a real treat. Productions like this are only possible with funding from various bodies including Arts Council England and the results on stage a really something to behold.

Kiss Me, Kate runs at The Theatre Royal, Newcastle until Saturday, November 7. Tickets are still available online.

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