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Kiss Me Kate - Theatre Review

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by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce (subscribe)
Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published November 22nd 2014
Brush up your Shakespeare (and they'll all kow tow)
When the Darlington Theatre Players announced a year of Shakespeare for 2014 (William's 450th birthday, in case you spent the year on another planet) the programme said they would end with Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate, of course, is loosely, very loosely, based on The Taming of The Shrew and is seldom performed by theatrical companies any more, despite a recent revival on Broadway that played to packed houses and was a huge critical and financial success.

Partly, I think, this is because in these sensitive days the theme of gentle, submisssive wives and strong, dominant husbands not above paddling the recalcitrant bottom is less acceptable than it might have been in the Bard of Avon's time.

However, the DTP also announced that this charming, overlooked, musical would be directed by Neroli Burton and one knew, with a sigh of contentment, that it would be all right.

And so it has proved. I attended the opening night along with a very healthy house and we were treated to probably the best community musical anywhere in the last few years.

A tricky musical to pull off as it requires four good singers and an above average chorus, along with a couple of songs sung as singles. Neroli was fortunate in her cast managing to snag a Musical Director of note (sorry about the pun) and a lead singer who could share a car to rehearsals.

Married couple Justin and Kathy Freind are well known in Perth musical circles and have both worked with Neroli many times, so the base was there. To this she has added some newcomers to Marloo's stage and some regular stalwarts.

The production, and it is little enough known to justify a quick resumé of the plot, is a play within a play. It is the 1940s, a divorced couple, Fred and Lilli, are mounting a production of The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore and playing the leads - Petruccio and Katherine.

A sub-plot centres on the juvenile leads, Lois and Bill, who are also a couple, although Lois has what some might call an hospitable heart. Bill has a problem with gambling, although it might be more accurate to say he has a problem with paying for his gambling.

Two debt collectors with no names but plenty of menace turn up to collect on their IOU. Lilli loves Fred, but is going to marry Harrison, Fred loves Lilli and wants to woo her back... now read on.

Marloo have produced and Neroli has directed what I would call a flawless production - some strange choices forced by necessity were made, but more importantly, made to work. With only one exception the voices were excellent, musically strong and lovely.

The dancing, choreographed by WAAPA student Jessica Russell was superb - just the right period feel, designed to make the very best of what in some cases might not be thought of as natural dancers the overall effect was just lovely and had the authentic period feel so difficult to describe, but so obvious when you see it.

Jessica is young and has, I think a glittering career as a choreographer in front of her if that's what she chooses. I have seen her act and she's pretty good at that too.

Cole Porter's for Kiss Me Kate music is far better known than the musical is, and as the familiar songs appeared nods of appreciation and small gasps of recognition flowed out of the entranced audience. Wunderbar, Brush Up Your Shakespeare and many others you'll know as soon as the opening bars of Porter's marvellous music ring out.

Lilli, the temperamental, but ultimately sentimental, romantic lead was beautifully played by Kathy Freind, giving her customary professional performance as a singer/actor/dancer. A little known fact is that Kathy (really Katherine) was named after this actual role by her mother who fell in love with the play when she saw it before Kathy's birth.

Kathy was admirably balanced in performance by Chris Gerrish as Fred, someone I have not seen on stage before, but whose performance, rich musical voice and wonderful, theatre-filling presence I thoroughly enjoyed. Easy to caricature, but Chris handled the tricky role so easily. His rendition of Where Is The Life That Late I Led?, was just sublime.

Sean Yeo as Bill was last seen in Perth as the eponymous king in The King and I at the Regal for the MS Society, ten years ago, but has not lost any of his skill - likeable, tuneful, you can see why Lois would fall for him.

And it's even easier to see why he would fall for her. Nyree Hughes was a knockout. In an exceedingly strong cast she almost stole the show from the moment when she signed in with a wiggle of her delectable bottom to the last drawn-out note of I'm Always True To You In My Fashion she was incandescent. She also looked divine. A lovely, endearing performance.

And I think endearing is probably the best word to describe the whole production. The wardrobe by Marjorie De Caux, Nyree Hughes and Rachel Vonk (also the female dance captain) was absolutely what was required - both as Elizabethean on-stage characters, and as 1940's actors backstage.

We see both, of course, the lavish set for the play within the play and the dingy backstage area as well as peaks inside the stars' dressing rooms. A marvel designed by George Boyd, these transformations take place on stage before our astonished eyes as a massive truck (theatre jargon for large moveable set bits) folded in on itself to become two dressing rooms and then split, fold back and reappear as backstage - and all remarkably smooth and close to soundless.

The decor and decoration was immaculate. The scenic art and painting was by Adrian Ashman and Owen Davis, who should take a pat on the back each. A massive round of applause for George's design and the work of his gang of helpers.

A special mention should be made of the comic turn, Gangsters One and Two, beautifully filled by Keith Scrivens and Alan Markham, having the time of their lives.

But most of all I want to pay tribute to the direction - Neroli made it look easy. Crowd control with a group of actors of mixed experience is never easy, but wherever you looked, when they were on stage they were acting. Fidelity to the role was scrupulous, the big production numbers, a combination always of choreographer and director were faultless, and the essence of good direction, good choreography, good lighting, good sound is that nothing stands out, but that all blends into a seamless, magnificent whole.

And this Marloo's Kiss Me Kate does. If you don't see any other show this Christmas, do not miss Kiss Me Kate, if you do, you'll regret it for years to come.

Very Highly Recommended Indeed.

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Why? The best community theatre musical in years
When: 8:00pm and 2:00pm (Matinees)
Where: Marloo Theatre, 20 Marloo Road, Greenmount, WA
Cost: $25, ($22 concession)
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