Kiss Me Kate

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Guildford School of Acting
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
(2009)

Production photo

This show is billed as an amateur production, but you certainly wouldn't know it as the graduate students of the Guildford School of Acting take to the stage with an assurance, expertise and abundance of talent equal to any of the top professionals. In this 'show within a show' the opening number of Another Openin', Another Show has the twenty nine strong cast arriving on stage in quick succession, each one busy with preparations for The Taming of the Shrew. A flyman climbs to the heights while below electricians, stagehands and carpenters mix with actors studying scripts and dancers trying out their routines - a busy introduction, but just the general melee which makes one wonder how a show can ever come together.

It is here that the two principal protagonists are introduced - Andre Softeland as actor Fred Graham who will play Petruchio and Fiona O'Carroll as the prima donna character Lilli Vanessi who will play Kate, and what terrific casting this is. These two look the part, act the part and feel the part with both glorious voices blending in perfect harmony, but they demonstrate from the first that their stage relationship is not at all harmonious. Fred and Lilli battle their way through the show mirroring the characters they are to play, and very convincingly too, but each in turn brings a wistful longing to the song So in Love nostalgically remembering the joys when first married. O'Carroll is equally expressive with I Hate Men and Softland's renditions as Petruchio are equal to any opera superstar.

There are nine scenes in Act One and eight in Act Two - a challenge to any company, but nothing fazes these soon-to-be professional students. The scene changes are made swiftly, smoothly and unobtrusively and the vibrant pace of the show never flags.

It is not just performers who are trained at the GSA, and nineteen of the production team are also students - stage managers, electricians, carpenters, lighting and wardrobe, and include Felicity Butler as assistant choreographer and also an excellent Dance Captain. The main choreography is by Keith Oldfield (not a student) and is intricate, varied and exciting - most particularly when Ben Palmer struts his stuff in the number Too Darn' Hot which opens Act Two. What a terrific dancer - sailing through the complexity of the steps as if they were simple.

Lindsey Nicholls is New Yorker Lois Lane who plays Bianca, and faultlessly plays the sexy dumb blonde. Could this be expert casting? I wouldn't know, but she managed the New Jersey accent throughout and she can belt out a song too even in Tom, Dick or Harry when dancing with her three suitors.

Special mention too for the two erudite gangsters - Alex Wadham and Jonathan Vickers in comic performances which included the song and dance Brush up your Shakespeare.

Sets and costumes by designer Colin Mayes are many and varied with some beautiful gowns for the leading ladies and Petruchio, although he may have got a little carried away with the cod-pieces, not only in size but . well, I've heard of swinging tassels but it's not usually the men!

Senior Tutor in Singing and Music is Martin Waddington who must be extremely proud of his students and he leads the eight piece orchestra, consisting of GSA staff members, which brings Cole Porter's score to effervescent life.

The annual performance of graduating students seems to get better every year. I feel that the world should be warned that they are on their way - and they intend to be noticed!

Until 18th July

Reviewer: Sheila Connor