Shakespeare’s plays lend themselves to song and dance adaptations – look at West Side Story and The Boys from Syracuse.
Given the rise of the Me Too movement, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate – a sparky, structurally complex play-within-a-play, framed by the misogynistic romp that is The Taming of the Shrew – is a bold choice by Northern Ireland Opera.
Director Walter Sutcliffe attacks it head on, whip cracking, fists flying. By omitting the character of Sly in Shakespeare’s Induction, the musical denies itself a get out of jail free card and the violence of Act I in this deft, beautifully realised and sung production, leaves one with a distinctly queasy feeling.
Through a television screen in actor/producer Fred Graham’s (Norman Bowman) dingy dressing room, the opening scene introduces the faces of Trump, Epstein, Johnson and Farage, whose company Fred is in danger of joining as the cleverly skewed second act ends.
The marital discord of Fred and Melle Stewart’s Lilli Vanessi comes alive when they morph into their Shakespearean alter egos, Katharine and Petruchio, their voices blending perfectly in their big duets.
Jayne Wisener’s Lois Lane is a coquettish baby doll, bringing a sharp Betty Draper vibe to her knowing performance. Matthew Cavan and Richard Croxford are outstanding among the support roles, with Cavan exploding out of the interval with a terrific delivery of Too Darn Hot.
Conor Mitchell’s delicious orchestrations add light and shade, subtle mood and period detail to the pin-sharp narrative while the cast navigates the fast-moving set and lighting changes without putting a foot wrong.