Swooping in to provide much need sustenance in a barren theatrical summer (for those of us unable to make it to the Edinburgh Fringe) the Watermill Theatre revive the toe-tapping, tune-packed Kiss Me Kate, performing it with vigour and pizzazz that's sure to leave any audience member with a broad smile on their face.
Cole Porter and Samuel & Bella Spewack's iconic musical tells the story of a production of a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. At the centre of the show are the divorced couple Fred and Lilli, bristling with unresolved tension that begin to manifest in their show. Stage right is a host of supporting characters that add colour, if not depth to the production. And stage left is a pair of gangsters, sent to retrieve a debt, becoming slowly embroiled in the night's drama.
One of the strengths of this take on Kiss Me Kate is the breadth of talent on stage. At the production's centre is a palpable chemistry between David Ricardo-Pearce's Fred and Rebecca Trehearn's Lilli. Individually, the two performers are exemplary - but when they are together, Kiss Me Kate crackles with electricity. Kimmy Edwards is terrific, even if her part feels somewhat regressive in 2019, whilst Jay Perry suffers from an underwritten part that never matches the skill the performer exhibits. It falls to Sheldon Greenland and Robert Jackson, who steal every scene they're in as the interloping gangsters. It helps that they have the best song of the evening, the iconic 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare'.
Frankie Bradshaw once again uses every inch of the stage in her set design, whilst Oti Mabuse's choreography threatens to erupt from the stage. The show sizzles with energy, particularly in the larger ensemble moments like 'Too Darn Hot', as Paul Hart marshals his talented ensemble - they sing, they dance, they double as the show's orchestra. Hart's production is a rollickingly good time, even if at times the 71-year-old musical shows its age.
The Watermill Theatre is a venue that has never been afraid to challenge the limitations of its rather intimate space. Kiss Me Kate is effectively retooled here into an actor-musician production, one that threatens to burst free of its confined space and land in the front row of the audience (there is a stand-out number where an actor clambers through the theatre's circle). But it feels like this is what the show needs, with an ensemble adding an energy and pace that manages to hide some of the creakier elements of the source material. With such a fabulous take on a classic, the Watermill offer sweet theatrical nourishment to all of us soon to be suffering Fringe-induced FOMO.