Kiss me, Kate at the London Coliseum: Not ‘better’ than Shakespeare – but certainly more enjoyable to watch

This breathtaking revival of a classic show from the golden age of the American musical comes as close as is possible to the ultimate theatrical trick: outdoing Shakespeare. Emily Anderson implores you not to miss it before the run ends.

Opera North’s award-winning production of Cole Porter’s 1949 Broadway comedy classic, Kiss me, Kate, has been something of a sensation. And rightly so: this is a brilliant clever and seamless staging of a musical that fuses Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the backstage drama of a 1950s Baltimore theatre company.

Jo Davies’s production was first seen in Leeds back in 2015, but has been revived by Ed Goggin with bona fide opera performers Quirijn de Lang and Stephanie Corley –  as Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate – taking the lead roles in a show which is now at the London Coliseum until June 30, after which it’s heading to Edinburgh. And while the venue has changed, what hasn’t is the well-balanced combination of big chorus performances, electric choreography and stunning solos to keep you entertained and  invested in the characters.

For me the stand-out performance came from Zoe Rainey as Lois Lane; her rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion filled the stage and captivated the audience. And then there was the showstopping penultimate performance, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, in which a pair of Bard-besotted gangsters played by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin brought the house down.

A scene from Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter @ Grand Theatre, Leeds. An Opera North and Welsh National Opera Production. Conductor, James Holmes. Directed by Jo Davies.

Country Life’s theatre critic Michael Billington saw the production in its original format in Leeds, giving it a five-star review – and coming perilously close to suggesting that the show outdoes Shakespeare’s original. While he didn’t go quite that far, he emphatically concludes that it’s far more enjoyable than the Bard’s original, certainly for modern audiences:

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“The wit resides in a simple fact: that we’re watching a musicalised version of The Taming of the Shrew in which the backstage battles of the show’s two stars echo those of the onstage characters.

“Paradoxically, the private war between the actor-manager, Fred Graham, and his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, makes the brutalism of the Petruchio-Kate relationship much less offensive than usual.

“You see this in their first encounter, when Shakespeare’s Kate is normally full of unmotivated rage, to which Petruchio responds with physical sadism. Here, however, Lilli’s fury at discovering her former husband has been dallying with a perky soubrette gives the scene extra spice and point.

“I wouldn’t say that Kiss Me, Kate, with its book by Bella and Sam Spewack, is better than The Taming of the Shrew, but it’s certainly more pleasant to watch.”

Praise indeed – and Michael finished his piece off by describing it as “a tonic product from the golden age of the American musical”.

Kiss me, Kate is at the London Coliseum until June 30, and is heading to Edinburgh after that – see for tickets and details.