National Youth Music Theatre bring their production of 'Kiss Me Kate' to Curve Theatre until Saturday 12th August. The production is stellar and I am genuinely floored by the level of talent in this company.
The show commences with a full-company number 'Another Opening', which accurately captures the chaos of putting on a production. It takes a village to put on a show, and this show honours the crew. The show is effortlessly funny and maintains this high standard throughout. The cast are also great at playing with physical theatre. This includes a hilarious couple of instances such as a two-person mule, a missing telephone, and a flirty interaction between the general and an audience member.
Once the show within the show (Taming of the Shrew) gets started, we are drawn into this Shakespearean world. This only proves how timeless Shakespeare’s work continues to be and the musical numbers compliment this. The slow unravelling of the show into a slow slide back to reality is brilliantly executed in 'Were Thine That Special Face', with Fred and Lilli. The two powerhouses are able to play off one another without compromising the quality of comedic timing or singing.
Lilli Vanessa aka Katharine (Sydney Richards) steals the show whenever she is on the stage. Set up to be a diva, she is one of the more sympathetic characters. With one of the strongest voices I’ve ever heard, she is given ample opportunity to showcase her range, with songs like 'Wunderbar,' 'So In Love' and 'I Hate Men.' However she is sadly underused in act two. Fred Graham aka Petruchio (Charlie Weaver) is at the actual heart of the show, and was given the most emotional numbers, which he takes in his stride. He does an exceptional job as the hot-headed and frustrated Fred Graham, and is an absolute joy to watch. I would genuinely watch him perform a one-person version of the entire show.
Lois Lane aka Bianca (Charlie Jackson) and Bill Calhoun aka Lucentio (Joe Buttler-Smith), both do an incredible job as the second leads, especially the latter’s 'Bianca' and the former’s 'Tom, Dick, Harry,' but I still felt that they were both underused. In the context of the play it is understandable, yet they are both so talented and I would liked to have seen their relationship explored more. We mostly experience this relationship from 'Bianca's' point of view. Bill is set up to be a main character, but he is woefully not given the opportunity to grow as a character, and even in his duets with Bianca, he mostly reacts to her. He does have a tap solo in 'Bianca,' which was beautifully and effortlessly performed. Lois Lane is given a few more songs, which helps to showcase her voice. However her 'Always True To You In My Fashion' feels slightly repetitive after the earlier 'Tom, Dick or Harry.'
Side note: a moment of appreciation for the amount of sexual innuendos used in the latter song. That song was such a strong number, with hilarious character interactions, flawless choreography, witty lyrics, great signing and perfect costumes. It was one of the highlights of the show and was such a fun moment in the drama-filled show.
The two gangsters (Georgie Lagden and Raphael Goold) were crowd favourites and the comedic duo of the show. With an exceptional gift for physical comedy, timing and witty jokes, the duo brightened every scene that they were in. Another standout secondary character was General Howell (Joseph Brown), who made a lasting impression with his 'Let’s Not Talk About Love.' I had not heard of the songs beforehand and was completely blown away by his singing and breathing control. He did a splendid job, and his song was my favourite part of the show. Pearl (Caitlin Garcia) shines as a secondary character, through the ensemble number 'Too Darn Hot' in the second act.
Also a shoutout to Ace Williams for doing a fantastic job as Harry Trevor, despite being the youngest member of the company and making his mark.
Two smaller moments of the show that I was glad to witness was when the no nonsense stage manager (Penny) chastises Bill for trying to win Lois’ love with physical threats, and his immediate correction of the lyrics. Another moment was when the two gangsters complained about the theatre stating "There’s no way out, it’s just one big curve.”
With this production taking place in Leicester’s famous Curve Theatre, this was a fun inclusion for the audience. (Also, a shoutout to the staff at Curve, who helped fix a broken backdrop during the interval). The show constantly proves its intelligence in the smaller moments, and remains witty and a fun watch.
Act one is brought to a strong close with the title song 'Kiss me Kate.' The build up to this song, both within the show, song and offstage is cleverly done, and this works wonderfully. The tensions that bubbled throughout the show burst in a rather dramatic manner and it’s extremely satisfying to watch. The inclusion of the two gangsters from a moment of deceit is a wonderful addition to the usual onstage/offstage drama, and brings another layer to the show. The duo were set up to comedic relief and they are hilarious to watch, with their chaotic antics and actual character growth. However, the show does occasionally focus on this duo a little too much. The duo are great, and whilst I absolutely enjoyed watching them perform, this occasionally leaves the other characters a little overshadowed.
Their song 'Brush up your Shakespeare' has clever lyrics and is performed brilliantly, but didn’t particularly stand out to me much as a song. The few minutes that are dedicated solely to this song relies heavily on the two gangsters, and the rapport they have built with the audience, often playing to this. They nail this song, but the show could have done without it, or at least a shortened version of the song.
My only actual issue with this production was the choice to have the ensemble crew visibly on the sidelines of the piece. Whilst I loved this decision in theory (for theatre crews to be appreciated more), the constant movement or interactions between cast members became a little distracting at times. However, this did not take away from the overall enjoyment of the show.
“Too Darn Hot” is the number that opens act two and the vocals by Pearl (Caitlin Garcia) and choreography are stunning, especially towards the end of the song. It was one of the more catchier songs and it was great to see the sense blue take centre stage again. However, with two storylines and a number of lead characters, the length could have been shortened . It was a very welcome distraction and stunning to watch, but a distraction nonetheless. 'We Sing of love' is perhaps the weakest number.
The number brings the entire ensemble on stage, yet splits them into smaller groups with different choreography. With this contrasting movement and shared lines, it became a little hard to follow in places, but was fun to watch nevertheless.
I want to thank the creative genius who came up with the idea of using the puppets and props. Designed on seemingly 2D white and black cardboard, the animals and baby were particularly funny to watch. The cream pies were a stroke of genius and fully deserved the impressed gasps from the audience.
The show’s main strength lies in the talent of the leads, particularly Lilli and Fred, and the comedic use and interaction of the ensemble. This is particularly clear in 'Where Is The Life That I Led?' wherein Fred smashes both. The songs are emotionally moving, yet a hoot to watch with the humour spread throughout.
Overall, the company has proved itself to be the future of musical theatre, and I am incredibly excited to see what they do next. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Tom Wren