Review: Kiss Me Kate (Chichester Festival Theatre) until September 1

Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.
Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.

No-one revives the great 20th century musicals quite like Chichester Festival Theatre.

Just when you thought the artistic team there couldn’t top Singin’ in the Rain they have raised the curtain on another masterpiece, Kiss Me Kate.

The 1948-original is still regarded by many as Cole Porter’s greatest triumph – his first show in which he specifically wrote the music and lyrics to dovetail with the script.

It also reflected the changing post war genre of the stage musical to his best effect, as Rodgers and Hammerstein upped the tempo with shows like Oklahoma.

Kate is a play within a play – it focuses on the antics on stage and behind the scenes of a production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

There are sharp, bitter-sweet comparisons between the Bard’s plot and the real life drama of the key actors – Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi.

There are uncomfortable moments. The theme of a husband controlling his wife through physical violence is out of place in the 21st century in a comic, musical entertainment.

But there are triumphs too. Too Darn Hot which opens the second half is simply mesmerizing – thanks to extraordinary performance of Jason Pennycooke and Porter’s music.

The star, though, of the show is the star herself, Vanessi played by Hannah Waddingham.

Hers is a multi-layered performance, hyper-charged throughout.

This is a kiss and tell story that Chichester will love.

Gary Shipton