10 July 2011

Kiss Me, Kate - Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Thursday 7th July 2011


A  theatrical troupe is presenting Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore, Maryland. The cast includes Fred Graham and his former wife, Lilli; also Bill Calhoun, an irresponsible gambler, and the girl whom he is interested in, Lois Lane. Bill breaks down and confesses to Lois that he is involved with gangsters, who have his I.O.U. for $10,000 from a game of cards. Bill, however, has signed it in the name of Fred Graham. This is not the first time Lois has had to tolerate Bill's escapades, and she inquires poignantly why he cannot behave himself. Meanwhile Fred and Lilli begin to realize that their one-time tender feelings for each other have not completely died out. They start to reminisce about the shows in which they appeared, including an old-fashioned Viennese operetta. Just before the opening night of The Taming of the Shrew, Fred sends flowers to Lois. By mistake they come to Lilli's dressing room - further proof (she thinks)  that Fred still loves her. She now openly reveals that that love is reciprocated.

On stage, the performance of The Taming of the Shrew is taking place.  As a play within a play, we learn that Bianca cannot get married until her older sister, Katherine, has found a husband. When Petruchio arrives in Padua to seek out a rich wife  he is chosen for Katherine. She, (the Shrew of the title), makes no attempt to conceal her feelings about men while Petruchio knows that Katherine is not the woman of his dreams. Nevertheless, he agrees to marry her.
We are now transferred from Shakespeare's Padua back to the intrigues within the theatrical company. Having learned that Fred's flowers were meant for Lois, Lilli bursts into a fit of temper, and announces hotly that she is leaving the company for good. Her departure, however, is delayed by the arrival of gangsters coming to collect from Bill the $10,000 for his I.O.U. As it has Fred's name on it, they pursue him for the money, but, he says, if Lilli leaves the company, the show cannot continue and he will be unable to give them the money.  To ensure that neither Fred nor Lilli leave until the money is paid, the gangsters become part of the show and accompany its two principals everywhere on stage during the performance.
In the second act we return to The Taming of the Shrew. Petruchio and Katherine are now man and wife. Since her violent tempers and caprices are complicating Petruchio's life to no end, he begins to recall nostalgically his single-blessedness Backstage, when Bill reprimands Lois for flirting with one of the actors, she makes light of her tendency to be fickle. But, for all his troubles with Lois, Bill has good cause for cheer. There has been a violent shake-up in the gangster world, as a result of which the I.O.U. is no longer valid. Bill and Lois are now reconciled, and Katherine and Fred return to each other.
Lilli Vannessi/Kate – Alex Chatworthy
Fred Graham/Petruchio – Alex Knox
Lois Lane/Bianca – Kae Alexander
Bill/Lucentio – Joshua Miles
Gangster – Lewis Goody
Gangster – Stephen Wilson
Hattie – Mabel Clements
General Harrison – Kingsley Ben-Adir
Harry/Baptista – Josh Hart
Hortensio – Karl Brown
Gremio – Thomas Clegg

Creative Team:
Music and lyrics – Cole Porter
Book – Bella and Sam Spewack
Director – Martin Connor
Choreographer – Joseph Pitcher
Designer – Mark Bailey

Hurrah, a musical! Just when I was beginning to lose all hope (ironically, one based round a Shakespeare play), and a good one too, by more or less the same creative team as last year’s Curtains! Once again, it’s a “money no object” production as the mighty coffers of practically all the big London professional guilds drain into Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s bank account – there have been six months of rehearsals, 26 musicians in the pit and more backstage crew than you can shake a stick at, all of whom will soon be making their way into the big, frightening and expensive world backed up by Mummie and Daddies’ Trust Fund. For some, the big time beckons, for others it will be Casualty, and for a good few, life will be spent struggling to keep up with the demand for double-decaff-skinny-latte orders or spitting in the food of those who don’t leave a decent tip.
Like last year, there are slick production values, good scenery, great costumes and loads of bodies on stage, supplemented by a fair few from the singing courses. This year, however, its more difficult to pick out those who are not the natural stage animals, although there is the obligatory tubby guy in a horrendous costume beaming all over his face and having the time of his life as he hits his top notes and struggles to keep up with the choreography. What larks! How wonderful this week will be to look back on as he toils away the years as the assistant accountant for an agent, adding up all those lovely ten-per-cents that his erstwhile friends are racking up for his boss.
The trouble is that Kiss Me, Kate (note the comma, which for some reason is missing from the front cover and cast list page of the programme) needs a male lead with a few years under his belt. Fred Graham needs to be a world-weary, slightly washed up actor, anxiously scanning for crow’s feet and trying to hold age and an expanding waistline at bay with crimson lake and a tightly hitched corset under his costume. Alex Knox, although admittedly young and pretty, plays it young and pretty as well. For all his swagger, its like watching an ingénue making his first stab at King Lear. And he’s a tenor, for chrissakes; Fred Graham is a bass-baritone role (it was one of Howard Keel’s greatest screen roles). Although I enjoyed his performance throughout, Fred/Petruchio is not his role. Yet. Give it another 20 years and then we’ll see. Alex Chatworthy, however, manages to convey Lilli’s faded edges convincingly, does a great line in tired sarcasm, seems familiar with the bitterness of disappointment and yet looks astonishingly like a very young Jodie Foster. Her Lilli seems somehow much older than Knox’s Fred. Kae Alexander lands the plum ingénue role of Lois Lane and has a great time being irritatingly perky all evening, although quite what she sees in Joshua Miles’ rather dreary Bill is beyond me. Of the two gangsters, Stephen Wilson (in what is nominally the lesser role of the two) is by far the most entertaining, and pulls off the astoundingly difficult feat of singing all of Brush Up Your Shakespeare while constantly chewing gum. That, my friend, is talent.
The role of Hattie (technically Lilli Vannessi’s maid but in this version reduced to the status of dresser) isn’t the world’s best part but gets to start the ball rolling in both acts with one of musical theatre’s best opening songs Another Op’nin’, Another Show and also Too Darn Hot at the top of Act 2 – but is denied the former in this particular version in which there is not only no overture but in which Another Op’nin’ is doled out piecemeal between the entire chorus. Kingsley Ben-Adir scores an unexpected hit with the “straight” role of General Harrison (again, rewritten from the original version) and also gets the added bonus of the song From This Moment On, which doesn’t appear in the stage version but has been added from the film, sitting slightly awkwardly, I thought.
Although its slick, well sung and obviously very well rehearsed, the choreography is rather disappointing. For a start, there ain’t that much of it. Its there when you expect it – and nowhere else. There are a couple of places where Petruchio’s solos cry out for a bevy of beautiful hoofers, most notably during Were Thine That Special Face, whose rumba beat doesn’t so much cry out for it as sit up and beg for it. What choreography there is, is often slightly utilitarian, leaving me feeling that the whole show is somewhat meh in places when it could have been WOW. I enjoyed the slightly cartoony Taming of the Shrew sets but noticed a major error that someone on the design team should be roundly spanked for. When we see Fred and Lilli’s dressing rooms from the inside (with the doors upstage), Lilli is in Dressing Room 1 on stage left, and Fred in Room 2 on stage right. Therefore, when we see the dressing room doors from the other side (i.e. from the corridor) the door to Room 1 should be stage right and room 2 stage left - but they’re not. In fact, from the corridor, the doors (and therefore the rooms behind them) have somehow swapped sides. Neither has there been any effort made in getting Lilli’s bouquet (snowdrops, pansies and rosemary, according to the script) to look anything like snowdrops; pansies and rosemary – although one wonders where the snowdrops came from in midsummer Baltimore. Someone perhaps needs to change the script to “a bunch of generic stage greenery”. Yes, I know, I know!
The pleasure of seeing a good show with a lot of noise coming from the pit is enhanced later by scanning the “News of last year’s graduates” page in the programme. Some have indeed gone on to greatness, some fallen by the wayside with a single appearance in Casualty. Now that The Bill is no longer, things are tough out there. Still, spare a thought for some of the technical graduates, who have worked on such exciting things as Paul Daniels: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (I kid you not), the WhatsonStage Theatregoers’ Choice Award Ceremony 2011 and, soul-destroyingly, the IBM Smarter Industries Symposium. I think I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a spoon. Or perhaps sit through Richard III again.


sarah said...

1. Get the cast names right
2. 6 months rehearsals? Good one
3. Don't be so rude, like SO rude
4. Get a life
5. I'm Sarah a student at Guildhall

Me! said...

Dear Sarah
1) If you would care to let me know what details I have wrong, then I will be happy to correct them.
2) I don't know; that was a guesstimate.
3) As I say on the blog's masthead, these are my opinions. I am entitled to them. Pro critics offer their opinions all the time and nobody accuses them of being rude, because they are paid to give their opinions. I'm not but that still doesnt leave me open to the charge of being rude. What specifically do you consider rude about my review?
4) I have a life, a very busy one. Again, if you can point out exactly why you consider that I dont have a life, I will be happy to enter into discussion!
5) Well done you. Are you upset because I've been rude about you or someone you know? In which case, I suggest that you develop a slightly thicker skin before entering a profession in which your every performance will be open to criticism by others!

stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lewisu said...

I must say I feel compelled to comment about this out-rightly vindictive, unintelligent review.

May I first point you to the banner at the top of the page which clearly states 'Expect nothing but my uninformed opinions'. As you quite rightly say, you are in fact uninformed. This means that you cannot, as you say, 'guesstimate' and write comments as if they are facts. To correct you, may i point out that the first rehearsal was in fact on the 1st of June, and seeing as the first performance took place on the 5th of July, this means that there was less than 5 weeks of rehearsal which is around industry standard.

There is also a strict budget, that one would agree would be in line with 'the real world' as you put it, or in fact under. Unfortunately as you do not hold budget details you cannot make such a judgement.

Unfortunately, if you choose to pretend to be a journalist via the medium of the internet, it does not exempt you from common courtesy, and give you a free pass to post vindictive, unrelated comments.

This means forming some twisted delusion that the technical team does not work hard, and are merely going to be supported by their parents in the future rather than be able to support themselves. I am rather perplexed at how you can make a statement like that, with no information about the technical team involved in the show, and how you can form some association with graduating Guildhall and being unable to support oneself, or ending up in a job unrelated to technical theatre. Unfortunately, your credibility as a reviewer, and indeed a person, is lowering by the second, as located on the employment section of the Guildhall technical theatre website it clearly states that 'Our graduates have had a near 100% employment rate.' Therefore your comments regarding employment are unfounded, disrespectful and pointlessly vindictive, and once again I am failing to see how this relates to the production that you witnessed.

In your next paragraph you go on to describe one of the performers as 'tubby', as if this could somehow affect his performance, and you link this comment with one about being an assistant to an accountant in the future, so therefore again a needless comment that dangerously drifts towards discrimination, something that is not needed in this, or any industry and is certainly not a sought after personal trait.

I will skip over the small section you actually talk about the show and address the last point you make about graduates going on to certain jobs that you find delight in highlighting. Once again, what a poor assumption and sheer negativity about the students, as many graduates have gone to work on large scale west end shows, the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, and such large venues and large companies.

Unfortunately I do not know why you seem to have such a vendetta against the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but my understanding is that you just enjoy insulting work of a standard that you could only dream of producing, and have to resort to finding petty, unrelated points to mention, as the review is lacking in substance and needs bulking up.

Finally, to clarify, I am a student at GSMD, so I am aware of the facts and therefore can quote and comment about them, and do not need to guess.

Me! said...

OK people let's all take a deep breath and calm down.

I accept that I have incorrectly attributed names to roles and am happy to correct such errors and and when they are pointed out politely.

I maintain that it is extremely difficult to sing and chew gum at the same time which is why I referred to it as a talent.

I did not slag off Alex Knox's performance in the role of Fred Graham - I merely said that I thought his playing style was too young for the role.

My review is not vindictive. I have no axe to grind with Guildhall nor any individual concerned with the production. I have, in fact, said many positive things about it - but of course these seem to have gone unnoticed.

I reiterate that you are heading into a career in which your every professional move is going to be subject to scrutiny and criticism. If you cannot cope with the opinion of a single person then you should seriously consider whether this career is the right one for you. You should also remember that, in The Profession, it is considered beneath oneself to respond to a negative comment by a reviewer or critic.

I did not set up this blog to be subjected to vindictive remarks. I have been subjected to such a tide of these that I have now taken direct action and contacted the Principal of the School. Any further vioious comments will be reported onwards. You have been warned.

Me! said...

That should, of course, have been "vicious" in the last sentence.

"Unfortunately, if you choose to pretend to be a journalist via the medium of the internet, it does not exempt you from common courtesy, and give you a free pass to post vindictive, unrelated comments"

That, of course, applies to you as well. But naturally you seem to have decided to ignore this fact.

Nowhere have I implied or stated outright that I consider the technical team not to have worked hard. In fact, I found the production values considerably superior to those of many West End shows I have seen lately. Unfortunately the error I noticed with the positioning of the doors was a bad one which should not have been made. I am sorry that you appear not to have liked my pointing this out.

Neither, except in the mind of the writer, have I equated attending Guildhall with not being able to support oneself. It is a sad fact of life that 95% of The Profession is out of work at any one given time.

"I will skip over the small section you actually talk about the show". But of course. And all the good things I said about the show in said small section.

"Finally, to clarify, I am a student at GSMD, so I am aware of the facts and therefore can quote and comment about them". Well, bully for you, love. I hope you're on the Arrogant Twat course because you're on for a Grade A*.

John Hansen said...

I am appalled by this review. That is not a vindictive or vicious comment, but merely my opinion. It is clear that the reviewer has no real understanding of the investment that goes into creating performances and the intricacies of crafting a story from a creative team's point of view; one clear example is the ludicrous suggestion that dancing girls should be used during Where is the Life that Late I Led? This particular number is a soliloquy in which Petruchio shares his secret thoughts with the audience; in terms of telling the story, it would be ridiculous if a chorus of showgirls suddenly appeared from nowhere.
I accept that people are entitled to opinions but I find this review dismissive, unfair and unintelligent. Yes, professional critics can be cruel too, but if they are worth their fee, they will usually back up their opinions with a clear knowledge of theatre which is sadly lacking in this review.
This is a student show and not a professional production; bearing that in mind, I was overwhelmed by the standard of the acting, direction, choreography, stage management and production values.

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that there is no A* at Degree level?

Anonymous said...

This is a hugely offensive and outright rude review. You clearly have a chip on your shoulder. I am a student at Guildhall, and was the scenic artist and coordinator for Kiss Me Kate- which I completed painting in 3 weeks under a heavy deadline. I work hard, I have never had 'Mummie and Daddie' backing me in the expensive and frightening world and never will- how dare you stereotype me amoungst others. I rely on myself, perhaps you find the world frightening- but I think it's actually quite exciting. Check out my website and then decide if I am going to be a failure.

sarah said...

Who are you? I'm slightly confused about why it is you seem to want to shoot down the whole production. I am also slightly confused about this so called 'busy life' you claim to have, this clearly isn't a blog of a man that is extremely busy, it's a bit sad.

1. OKAY I will...Here are a couple of comments that are WRONG...

"backed up by Mummie and Daddies’ Trust Fund."- You have NO idea where our money comes from, how dare you judge. Also if some peoples parents want to pay out what on earth does it have to do with you? At least the students at Guildhall are doing something with their lives, the money has to come from somewhere.

"although there is the obligatory tubby guy in a horrendous costume beaming all over his face and having the time of his life as he hits his top notes and struggles to keep up with the choreography. What larks!"- This is just cruel...There is no justification for it, they are all very talented, it is no way your place to say such rude and unnecessary comments. Also, I'm on costume for the show and no, they are all spectacular thanks and an awful lot of work went into getting those costumes. (very confused about why you care so much)

2. A guesstimate? When on this planet would it take 6 months in rehearsals...I'd make sure I did more research before making such ridiculous comments.

3. Yes, your 'opinions' fair enough, but this is in no way constructive, it's just having a go about things that you shouldn't really care this much about! (still confused about why you are so passionate about it)

4. No, you clearly DO NOT have a life. (Again still confused about why you're so bothered.)

5. You clearly don't know me, if you did you would know I don't find ridiculous and sad comments upsetting just pathetic. (Nope, still don't understand)

Thanks for your AMAZING response...you haven't got a leg to stand on. You clearly don't enjoy Guildhall shows, I suggest you go elsewhere.


P.s. I've thought about it and no, I still don't understand why and how in your busy schedule you have the time and effort to care so much and write nasty, yes nasty, comments.

Me! said...

I am sorry that all of you seem to have taken such umbrage at my review. There is, of course, no obligation on anyone to a) read it in the first place or b) agree with it.

No further comments will be published on this matter. Over. Closed. Finished. Understand?


Me! said...

Please dont bother to post any more comments as they will be deleted without being read.

Hopefully as Guildhall students you will be familiar with the quote "Methinks the lady doth protest too much".

And please learn how to spell the word "Principal". What a shocking waste of such an expensive education to render it as "principle".

Anonymous said...

Didn't see the show, don't know any of the people involved, but the review is hardly as harsh as these Guildhall students are making out. Overall I even thought it quite complimentary. The comments were hilarious though. The trust fund observation certainly seemed to hit home.

Me! said...

Finally, the voice of reason speaks. Thank you, anonymous. Please consider signing up to become a Follower of my blog!