Despite not being a prescriptive Christmas story, this year’s Christmas show at The Crucible, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, is the perfect upbeat explosion of colour, song and dance to get you in that festive spirit.
The narrative follows a troupe of actors putting on a production of The Taming of the Shrew, with ex-spouses Lilli Vanessi (Rebecca Lock) and Fred Graham (Edward Baker-Duly) amongst the cast members, playing opposite each other as the main characters.
Inevitably, the line between on- and off-stage begins to blur as actors mirror characters, and real-life dynamics bleed through to complicate things. Throw in some gangsters, affairs, and make half the cast divas and you have yourself a pretty wonderful musical.
Why do we root, from the beginning, for Lilli and Fred to get back together, despite them both being objectively rather unpleasant people? It’s down to ‘Wunderbar’, their first duet and the first true insight into their dynamic, which firmly establishes their overriding, genuine feeling connection.
The modern audience cringes at the concessions that Lilli/her Shakespearean counterpart Katharine makes, and how little Fred/Petruchio seems to change. However, Amy Ellen Richardson’s performance as the ditsy Lois, owning her sexuality entirely, is an icon of comfort in herself as the way she is, and highly likeable as a result. Her solo number ‘Always True to You (In My Fashion)’ is a highlight of the production, a playful shout of female guile; with such a strong filmatic version, it’s impressive how wholly hers the rendition is, her beau removed from stage to allow her the limelight, which she soaks up with glorious glee.
The ending could have done with reverting to real life to escape the net of early modern misogyny one more time – regardless of how much allowance you give for context, ‘I am Ashamed That Women are So Simple’ is hard to stomach – but regardless, the feelgood aspect is unavoidable.
It’s problematic, sure, but it is from 1948; Paul Foster’s new production is shot through with optimism and humour, and with stunning vocals across the cast it’s a must-see this season.
Header image: Sheffield Theatres