Tag Archives: Bartlett Sher




KISS ME, KATE at the Barbican


“This is a blazing production, burning with wit and charm, song and dance, and with a feelgood finale that is far hotter than a British summer”

We are officially in summer in a couple of days’ time, although it might not necessarily feel like it. But a couple of bars into the overture of Cole Porter’s classic, “Kiss Me, Kate” and the clouds disappear. We are instantly put in a good mood, unable to resist the warmth and the joie de vivre this sizzling and silly musical has to offer. Porter is on top form, complemented brilliantly by Sam and Bella Spewack’s book which adopts Shakespeare’s ‘play-within-a-play’ trick, taking its subterfuge to new heights.

Both ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ have gathered accusations of misogyny over time, but if you look deeper, the bard and the songsmith are, in fact, championing women’s rights. And Bartlett Sher’s revival brushes off any remaining crumbs of sexism that may linger with this revival. The sheer force of the two leading ladies’ performances, of course, helps immensely.

The show opens with a curtain call. One that is being rehearsed for the opening night of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Fred (Adrian Dunbar), the egotistical director and producer, is starring as Petruchio while his ex-wife, Lilli (Stephanie J. Block), plays Katherine. The two bicker constantly, like Burton and Taylor on a bad day, yet Dunbar and Block effortlessly reveal the deep-seated, hidden love and affection they still hold for each other. The only casualty here is the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ dynamic – we just know from the off that they’ll eventually reconcile, despite Lilli being betrothed to a strait-laced, regimental General Harrison Howell (a delightful cameo from the underused Peter Davison).



Meanwhile Lois (Georgina Onuorah) and her gambling, misbehaving boyfriend, Bill (Charlie Stemp), are enjoying their own backstage tussles. Not least because there’s a thing going on between Lois and Fred. The shenanigans don’t stay in the green room, however, but are dragged kicking and screaming onto the stage, playing havoc with Shakespeare’s storyline. Throw in a couple of gangsters chasing a gambling debt (Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay), and the farce is complete.

It is a star-studded production, with an equally starry ensemble. Everyone has a moment to glow in the spotlight, yet nobody outshines anyone else. Each swing, and chorus member, portrays a well-defined, unspoken personality too. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is stunning, not just visually but also in its storytelling, reaching its climax in the Act Two opener, ‘Too Darn Hot’, which elicited an ovation that finally had to be cut short by the performers themselves, worried that they might miss the last train home.

Matching the dancing skills are the vocal skills. Georgina Onuorah and Stephanie J. Block mix power with fragility, wit with emotion. Onuorah’s show-stopping ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ is another highlight, while Block’s ‘So in Love’ is steeped in gorgeous torment. Slightly out of his depth, Adrian Dunbar reprises the number. He can hold a tune, for sure, but his vocal shortcomings do stand out against the sheer wall of virtuosity he is surrounded by. Dunbar’s own virtuosity is confined to his character acting and comic timing which is, indeed, spot on. Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay, on the other hand, are a double act with a triple threat, showcased by their superbly comic performance, and brilliant rendition of ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’.

Catherine Zuber’s costumes perfectly mirror the various elements of the show, mixing the eroticism of the backstage, sultry and sexy glamour with the onstage Elizabethan grandeur. Michael Yeargan’s revolving set seamlessly guides us through the stage door onto the stage, via the dressing rooms and back again. This is a blazing production, burning with wit and charm, song and dance, and with a feelgood finale that is far hotter than a British summer. While it’s definitely not too darn hot outside, inside the Barbican, it’s sizzling.


KISS ME, KATE at the Barbican

Reviewed on 18th June 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson






Previously reviewed at this venue:

LAY DOWN YOUR BURDENS | ★★★ | November 2023



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The King & I – 4 Stars


The King & I

London Palladium

Reviewed – 4th July 2018


“built on its flawless singing and orchestrations, and the set can afford to be barely an afterthought”


Perhaps there’s no bad time for a revival of The King and I. Amid themes of relations between cultures, what it means to be a woman and what it means to lead, this story and the questions that it asks may never cease to be relevant. That said, if no time is the wrong time, this feels like the perfect moment. As the world continues to turn outside the walls of the London Palladium, the King’s frustrated cry of “sometimes I wish I could build a wall around all of Siam” and his referral to Anna as a “difficult woman” hold onto a grim relevance that Rodgers and Hammerstein couldn’t have predicted.

For all its new pertinence, it’s clear that the London revival is making a great effort to maintain the classic nostalgia, with very few changes from the Broadway version, even down to having the same two brilliant actors in the lead roles. Kelli O’Hara’s portrayal of Anna makes it blatantly obvious how she has become so iconic in this role. She has a light and unassuming presence on stage, but underneath this there lies great power and tenacity. She perfectly captures the constant balancing act of existing as a Victorian widow, living outside the safety of the British empire. However, she doesn’t hide the exhaustion that this would bring: the moments when Anna’s carefully curated image cracks are some of the piece’s most powerful.

Likewise, Ken Watanabe’s King absolutely fills the stage by himself. While a few of his words were lost at times, this only served to remind me that the character was functioning in his second language and was constantly struggling to be understood, on both linguistic and personal levels.

When reviving this musical, an awareness of its history is key. When both the original Broadway and film casts were all too white, approaching this version with sensitivity is absolutely paramount and was clearly at the forefront of the creative team’s minds. For example, by staging a number with the King’s wives navigating the horrors of Victorian dresses before turning to look straight at the audience and inform us, directly and with obvious anger, that “Western people funny”, the balance of power is changed. We as a Western audience are accused of hypocrisy and self aggrandising, and this criticism cannot be ignored.

It would be impossible to discuss this musical without at least touching on the ensemble. Flitting easily between roles with an ever present energy, their talent is unmistakable. At times the sets felt as if they jumped between the opulence of the castle and something a little more unfinished, but this piece really doesn’t rely on the set. It’s built on its flawless singing and orchestrations, and the set can afford to be barely an afterthought.

While this revival had relatively little new to offer, the overwhelming sense is that they know what works, and they’re happy to stick to it.


Reviewed by Grace Patrick

Photography by Matthew Murphy


The King & I

The King & I

London Palladium until 29th September


Previously reviewed at this venue
The Wind in the Willows | ★★★★★ | June 2017


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