Photo: Johan Persson

We’re not usually ones for drawing comparisons here but with Kiss Me, Kate it’s difficult not to. The Barbican Theatre had a smash hit on its hands in the summer of 2021 – so successful, in fact, that they repeated the exact same production in the summer of 2022 – with a revival of Cole Porter’s classic musical Anything Goes. Producers Trafalgar Entertainment appear to think they’re on to a winning formula, and for this summer’s season at The Barbian they’re revived another of Porter’s hit musicals in Kiss Me, Kate.

Anything Goes featured an all-star cast, teaming Tony-winning Broadway royalty Sutton Foster with British stage and TV star Robert Lindsay; Kiss Me, Kate also features some big names, pairing Tony-winning Broadway royalty Stephanie J Block with British TV star Adrian Dunbar, best known for Line of Duty. Throw in some of the other key elements from their previous hit (a spot of tap dancing here, a lavish orchestra there) and it seems as though we have all the ingredients of a sizzling summer spectacular. The bar was set incredibly high with Anything Goes, though – can lightning really strike twice?

Almost. We should note that the source material here isn’t quite as strong – the plot of Kiss Me, Kate isn’t as enjoyable, being a play-within-a-play following a troupe of actors trying to revive the fortunes of a failing musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew (itself a play-within-a-play) by bringing in a big-name star, who happens to be the ex-wife of the show’s director. The show is nearly 80 years old and is showing its age somewhat, particularly in its attitude towards how women are treated. There are a couple of other shortcomings, too – it’s at least 20 minutes too long, and all the best stuff happens after the interval, meaning act one drags a little.

When it’s good, though, it’s really, really good. At the top of act two we’re treated to ‘Too Darn Hot’, a wonderfully over-the-top song and dance number fronted by Charlie Stemp and Jack Butterworth which, as the name suggests, really turns the heat up in the auditorium. The second half also sees Georgina Onuorah’s showstopping rendition of ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ and our two surprisingly eloquent gangsters, Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay, deliver a crowd-pleasing singalong of amusing duet ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. This show does contain some truly magical moments – it’s just a shame we had to wait about an hour and a half to actually see any of them.

While we had a great night out we also had mixed feelings about Kiss Me, Kate – at the interval we weren’t sure how much we were enjoying it, although the second half really does deliver some spectacular set pieces. Adrian Dunbar is a talented actor and a decent singer, although he is repeatedly outshone by Stephanie J Block who is absolutely terrific. Charlie Stemp, meanwhile, is a hugely talented dancer, and he feels somewhat underused in a production where he’s dealt a couple of minor roles. It has lots going for it – an impressive set, a great orchestra – but it doesn’t land the same way Anything Goes did before it. Is it an enjoyable night out? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Also yes.

GAY TIMES gives Kiss Me, Kate – 4/5

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