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Although it’s the first musical to be staged at the Old Vic under Kevin Spacey’s regime, it’s not the first time this theatre has hosted Cole Porter’s 1940’s song-filled twist on The Taming of the Shrew.

In 1987, it garnered an Olivier award for its leading actress and, a quarter of a century later, Hannah Waddingham will surely be in the running when the next nominations are announced.

She plays Hollywood star Lilli Vanessi, frostily rehearsing a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy with Fred Graham, her faithless ex-husband, director and co-star to boot. Sam and Bella Spewack’s book cleverly interweaves their post-marital off-stage spats with the sparring of their on-stage characters (vitriolic Kate and Petruchio, the suitor with an outsize codpiece who sets out to tame her) and, rather more perfunctorily, a couple of slow-witted gangsters calling in a gambling debt.

There’s sometimes almost too much determined energy in Trevor Nunn’s confident production, and poor Kate gets spanked so lustily she can barely sit down. But right from the opening number (“Another Op’nin, Another Show”) it’s hard to resist the songs. Gloriously rendered – almost operatically in the case of Alex Bourne’s Fred and Waddingham’s Lilli (whose mood veers drastically from being wistfully regretful in “So in Love” to venomously furious in “I Hate Men” when he disappoints her once again) - they’re classics of their time. And Stephen Mear’s choreography really comes into its own in “Too Darn Hot”, sending a lithe Jason Pennycooke (as Fred’s dresser) sliding right across the stage whilst simultaneously doing the splits.

Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB
Until 2nd March | £11.00- £58.00
Tube | Waterloo
oldvictheatre.com


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