Kiss Me Kate at the Barbican Theatre London. Photo by Johan Persson

Kiss Me, Kate Reviews Round-up

Reviews are coming in from London theatre critics for Kiss Me, Kate, Bartlett Sher’s new production of the classic Cole Porter musical now playing at the Barbican Theatre in London.

Produced by the same team behind the revival of Anything Goes which played at the Barbican for two summers, this lavish new revival is directed by Bartlett Sher, known for his recent productions of My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum and The King and I at the Dominion Theatre.

Featuring a company of 50, including a full orchestra, Cole Porter’s witty, jazz-inflected score features classic show-stopping numbers such as “Too Darn Hot,” “Op’nin’ Another Show,” “Dick or Harry,” “So In Love,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

The stellar cast includes TV favourite Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty), Tony Award winning Broadway star Stephanie J. Block (Into The Woods, 9 to 5), and West End leads Charlie Stemp (Crazy For You), Georgina Onuorah (The Wizard of Oz), Nigel Lindsay (Shrek), Hammed Animashaun (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Jack Butterworth (Guys and Dolls), and Peter Davison (Doctor Who).

The cast also includes Josie Benson, Jude Owusu, Carl Au, Jordan Crouch, Gary Milnere, James Hume, Alisha Capon, Shani Cantor, Maya de Faria, Amelia Kinu Muus, Jacqui Jameson, Lucas Koch, Alex Lodge, Nell Martin, Anna McGarahan, John Stacey and Harrison Wilde. Swings are Robin Kent, Barry Drummond, Emily Goodenough and Maddie Harper.

This show-within-a-show is about a troupe of actors putting on a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in an out of town production, where art starts to imitate life. The musical celebrates the joy and madness of working in theatre, and has everything from gun-toting gangsters to sparring actors, romantic entanglements and some joyous songs from Cole Porter.

Joining Bartlett Sher in the creative team is Choreography by Anthony Van Laast, set design by Michael Yeargan, costume design by Catherine Zuber, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Adam Fisher, and musical supervision by Stephen Ridley.

Kiss Me, Kate is playing a limited Summer season at the Barbican Theatre to 14 September 2024.

Read reviews from the Times, Guardian and more, with further reviews to be added.

Book tickets to Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican Theatre London

Kiss Me, Kate reviews

The Times

"Huge fun, and Adrian Dunbar doesn’t disgrace himself"

"This play-within-a-play take on The Taming of the Shrew at the Barbican is admirably witty, and the Line of Duty star exhibits a comic touch"

"There’s unorthodox casting in the form of Adrian Dunbar (Superintendent Ted Hastings in Line of Duty), who is playing the actor-manager Fred Graham. He may not be the most potent of singers — at times he seems to be coaxing his voice over the hurdles — but he certainly doesn’t disgrace himself. In the scenes of psychological warfare with the Broadway star Stephanie J Block, who plays Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, he exhibits a light comic touch. Block is a dynamic presence, wringing every drop of mirth and venom from the semi-operatic I Hate Men. This Lilli is too strong and self-confident to need the protection of modern-day #MeToo campaigners."

"Before the show opened, Block spoke of her surprise at discovering that British audiences are much stingier with standing ovations than their American counterparts are. That’s true. But judging by tonight’s roars of approval from the stalls, I suspect she’ll soon think she is back on Broadway."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Financial Times

"A sparkling and subtly tweaked show at London’s Barbican"

"Cole Porter’s songs shine through this revival of the 1948 musical while its problems are cleverly addressed"

"Sher, who is no stranger to tricky revivals, handles this not through wholesale change, but through small, telling shifts and a crisp, ironic take on storyline and characters. There’s no attempt to transpose or update the setting, but the cast introduces a mischievous sense of conspiracy with the audience as we all roll with a comic plot that involves walkouts, mistaken identity and, most incongruously, two stagestruck gangsters parlaying their way into the show."

"At the core of this production is Block, who finds a wealth of hurt, fury and love in Lilli. She burns up the stage with her raging solo “I Hate Men”, but is haunting in Porter’s beautiful, melancholic lament of regret “So in Love”. Opposite her, Dunbar has a decent singing voice rather than a great one, but he brings wry charisma and lovely comic timing to the part."

"Does it solve all the problems? No. But it’s a shrewd, ironic take and a great deal of fun."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Guardian

"Glorious music, falderol frivolity and Adrian Dunbar"

"Cole Porter’s musical variation on The Taming of the Shrew gets an exhilarating revival, even if the Line of Duty star’s singing is less than sensational"

"Broadway’s Stephanie J Block and Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar play the leads. But wonderfully, the ensemble bangers showcase backstage staff. A stentorian Josie Benson kicks off Another Op’nin’, Another Show (“another pain where the ulcers grow”). And the second half ignites the languorously horny Too Darn Hot, sassily choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. Jack Butterworth’s dresser leads a dance of dirty-minded shoulders and hips, until the band rips into the score and Butterworth and Charlie Stemp have a bravura spin-off. Hot in all the good ways."

"Dunbar has some dapper moves and a pointed way with a lyric. Vocally he is, shall we say, brave casting for a role often taken by operatic baritones – less than wunderbar against rich-voiced Block. Few could match her pugilistic coloratura or the barn-burning gleam of her solo I Hate Men."

David Jays, The Guardian
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The Independent

"A supremely silly evening of summer escapism"

"‘Line of Duty’ star Adrian Dunbar teams up with Broadway legend Stephanie J Block for another perfectly pitched Cole Porter revival at the Barbican"

"Now it’s the turn of Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Bartlett Sher, now the go-to man for reviving large-scale golden age musicals (recently My Fair Lady and The King and I). Even if it doesn’t hit the same highs as Anything Goes – that was a better production of a better show – this is still a supremely lovely, supremely silly way to spend a summer evening."

"The musical-within-a-musical structure allows everyone to have a bit of fun: Anthony Van Laast gets to stick in some joyfully anachronistic choreography, Catherine Zuber barely stops short of the kitchen sink with her cod-Elizabethan costumes, puffs and ruffs and sexy low-cut doublets and corsets. Michael Yeargan goes similarly to town with the set, a towering three-sided revolve that spins us between stage and dressing rooms, with loads of doors ready for slamming in full farce style."

"Then there’s Dunbar. He’s not really done musical theatre before and, to be honest, it shows. He can hold a tune, but there’s a tight, buzzing bee quality to his voice that you really notice next to the soaring talent of Block and the rest."

"... there’s something about the combo of sparkly old Cole Porter showtunes in the blank brutal concrete of the Barbican that just works. Even with the flaws of the show, and the occasional lacunae in Sher’s direction – static moments that lose momentum – it’s all just so much fun. No doubt we’ll be back next year for, what, High Society? Can’t wait."

Tim Bano, The Independent
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The Telegraph

"Mother of God! Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar can actually sing"

"The TV star and a fantastically on-form Stephanie J Block make a swell duo in this smart new staging with all the makings of a summer hit"

"ine of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar has swapped AC-12 for Cole Porter as he makes his belated professional musical theatre debut, and if I were questioned by an officer at least one rank senior, I would freely admit that he acquits himself well in this glorious Golden Age spectacular."

"Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous production is particularly well attuned to Sam and Bella Spewack’s wittily Shakespearean play-within-a-play conceit"

"The knockout turn comes from Tony-winner Stephanie J Block. She brilliantly layers her fiery dual roles, making it more about Lilli finding herself than a man, and she’s a simply divine singer, skilfully changing up the rhythms in So in Love to reflect her turbulent emotions and delivering show-stopping coloratura."

"... there are also nostalgic pleasures galore: Catherine Zuber’s fabulous 1940s fashions, Anthony Van Laast’s Jerome Robbins-esque choreography in Too Darn Hot (led by an explosively exciting Jack Butterworth), and Nigel Lindsay and Hammed Animashaun’s hilarious Runyonesque theatre-enthusiast gangsters."

Marianka Swain, The Telegraph
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"A tremendous performance from Broadway star Stephanie Block propels this knowing revival of the classic musical"

"It’s to big shot American director Bartlett Sher’s credit, then, that the show’s mirroring of scenes within scenes in his impressively large-scale, major new revival at the Barbican Centre is heavily laced with irony."

"This is a lush, wittily spectacular production, whose lynchpin is Block as Lilli/Kate. As Fred, Dunbar has a decent voice and a lovely way with gentle comedy. Together, they have delightful chemistry. But Block commands the stage. She’s charismatic, versatile and makes every note – in every sense – sing. She turns ‘I Hate Men’ into virtuoso comedy. She brings light, depth and shade and joyfully shrugs off any period fustiness."

"Georgina Onuorah is also superb as Lois Lane, turning her song to Bill, ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’, into an anthem of sex positivity. Meanwhile, Jack Butterworth as Fred’s assistant Paul seduces the entire Barbican auditorium with his sensuous rendition of ‘Too Darn Hot’."

Tom Wicker, TimeOut
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i News

"Adrian Dunbar’s really sucking diesel"

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey - he's a revelation"

"... Dunbar has a gloriously easy charisma as actor-manager Fred Graham"

"His sparky leading lady, Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie J Block, making her West End debut but renowned for her work in musicals on Broadway) also happens to be Fred’s ex-wife, which leads to myriad backstage romantic entanglements from which Michael Frayn drew inspiration for his masterpiece Noises Off."

"Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay make an inspired pairing here and their party piece number “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (“If you can’t be a ham and do Hamlet/ They will not give a damn or a damlet”) is the song of the evening, with the duo developing an ever more elaborate series of gestures and props for each delicious new verse."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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Daily Express

"A sluggish first act is all that holds this show back"

"Bolstered by a cast that can blitz their way through Porter’s drop dead fabulous numbers - Another Op’nin’, Another Show, Wunderbar, Kiss Me, Kate - Dubar effortlessly sustains a presence of flesh and blood without the artificial carapace of his US counterparts."

"Making her UK debut as Fred’s embittered ex-wife, Broadway superstar Stephanie J Block is a fluid, powerful performer even if she over-relishes the I Hate Men number like drowning a hamburger in too many condiments."

"Our very own Charlie Stemp as Bill the gambling addict gets his chance to shine in the tap dancing number Bianca that makes the most of Michael Yeargan’s towering chameleon set that revolves to reveal backstage, dressing rooms, theatre sets and painted maps, though the positioning of the orchestra pit seems unnecessarily perilous."

"Dunbar and Block may make an odd couple and the sluggish first act needs sharpening but once the motor’s running, it’s a gas gas gas."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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The Evening Standard

"Solid, serviceable – but lacks fizz and verve"

"With all the talent attached, this musical should have been so much better"

"Call it magic or call it pizazz, the mystery ingredient that makes a show truly sing is missing from Bartlett Sher’s revival of Cole Porter’s classic."

"... this self-referential love letter to showbiz is structurally complex but should feel fizzy and light. Here it’s solid, serviceable, but unexciting, thanks partly to the lack of chemistry between the leads, Broadway veteran Stephanie J Block and Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar."

"Anthony van Laast’s choreography is brisk and forceful, but the sketchy sets of Michael Yeargan look cheap. Thank goodness for Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay, who turn their un-named, mutt-like gangsters into a comic double-act for the ages."

"Stemp and Onuorah are great when briefly allowed to shine. But with all the talent attached, it should have been so much better."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Lacks plot tension"

"Adrian Dunbar and Stephanie J Block star in a miscast, misfiring revival of the Cole Porter classic"

"... is it possible to be too good? Through absolutely no fault of Block’s, the answer is yes. Tremendous throughout, she never overplays her hand; but presented with her warmth, accuracy and relaxed skill, you realise how lacking her mostly miscast co-stars are."

"Bartlett Sher’s fitful, over-bright, strained staging most often misfires because of chemistry – or, rather, the lack of it."

"More fatally, although Dunbar can carry a tune – he sings in his TV series Ridley – the role needs a true musical theatre singer who should sound at his emotional best when singing big love songs."

"Sadly, the lack of chemistry also extends to Lois and Bill. Sher fails to energise their relationship, so sex and excitement between them, and the connection to Fred, vanishes. Charlie Stemp shines in his dance numbers, especially alongside Jack Butterworth in Too Darn Hot."

David Benedict, The Stage
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Kiss Me, Kate

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📷 Main photo: Kiss Me Kate at the Barbican Theatre London. Photo by Johan Persson

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