Reviewed at: Kilworth House Theatre
Kilworth House Theatre set in the beautiful grounds of Kilworth House in the Leicestershire countryside is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The passion project of owner Celia Mackay has gone from strength to strength over the first 10 years. The theatre, that only seats 550, has showcased some amazing shows. The Sound Of Music, Anything Goes, South Pacific, Singin’ in the Rain, Legally Blonde, Sister Act, Thoroughly Modern Millie and West Side Story to name a few. The main theatre season showcases two productions one at the start and the other the end of summer. The theatre was described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘Britain’s best-kept theatrical secret’. It really is one of the most lovely theatres that you can visit. The 10th anniversary season kicks off fantastically with Kiss Me Kate.
Kiss Me Kate is the story of a theatre company who are rehearsing and then performing a musical version of William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew. It centres on the relationship between show producer and star, Fred Graham and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. It also focuses on a further romance between young star Lois Lane, who plays Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend Bill who runs into trouble with two gangsters.
The musical originally written by Samuel and Bella Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter is here under the direction of Matthew White. Matthew’s fantastic production is full of energy and mischief and is wonderfully designed by Paul Farnsworth. The large theatre set takes you backstage as well on stage to ‘Shrew’ the music. The costume design is very much of the piece, very Shakespearean, the costumes for the whole ensemble, again under the design of Paul Farnsworth are colourful and well thought out, watch out for the gangsters hilarious outfits!
Cole Porter’s brilliant timeless score features some great musical numbers, ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’, ‘Wunderbar’, ‘So In Love’, ‘Too Darn Hot’ and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ stand out. Porter’s lyrics are clever and witty and this really is the great composer/songwriters best work. The wonderful orchestra under the musical direction of Michael England is excellent throughout.
A cast of truly West End class is again on the Kilworth stage. Caroline Sheen is outstanding throughout as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine. She is total glamour as the Hollywood star and venomous as the plot thickens. Caroline’s vocal performance is fantastic. The rendition of ‘So in Love’ was magnificent. Matthew McKenna is excellent as Fred Graham/Petruchio, his vocals soar across the whole performance. McKenna is a star, he plays the role perfectly, getting every aspect of the character spot on.
Whilst Sheen and McKenna are the real leads of the show this is really an ensemble show, the opening number ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’ showcases this as you gradually meet all the company. There are numerous great company moments but none more so than ‘Too Darn Hot’ which opens the second act. Tarinn Callender leads the number with fabulous vocals but the whole company shines with energetic choreography. The production’s choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane has given the company a lot of work to do and they pull it off with aplomb. Her choreography is a mix of all styles, there are backflips and all sorts. It’s the variety of styles that really is compelling.
Monique Young brings a doll-like quality to Lois Lane (Bianca in Shrew), she is utterly sexy and charming. She is vocally strong as well, and the number ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ is just a joy. Lois Lane charms pretty much every man she meets and her relationship with Justin Thomas’s Bill Calhoun (Lucentio in Shrew) is fantastic. Thomas is fantastic and has a real twinkle in his eye. He is vocally strong as is his dancing ability. A real triple threat. Both Young and Thomas will go on to many great things.
Cory English (an actor I’ve admired for many years since seeing him in the West End production of the Producers) and Carl Sanderson are the brilliant gangsters that come to settle an I.O.U. They’re scene stealers and are both hilarious. They bring the house down with their rendition of ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’.
Davide Fienauri is a real eye catcher of Hortensio, his flamboyance is brilliant and just leaves you with a big smile on your face. Gary Davis is great as General Harrison Howell/Baptisa. Katia Sartini is full of beauty and talent and her saxophone solo is great. The entire company is superb as I say, I could happily name each of them for their incredible performance. Each of them beautiful and strong throughout.
Kiss Me Kate is a fabulous comedy musical which is a great remedy that we all need right now and this production is another Kilworth gem. You forget that you’re not sat in the West End. Truly brilliant theatre.
Kiss Me Kate runs at Kilworth House Theatre until Sunday 16th July. Get your tickets here.