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The International Writers Magazine
:Production Diary and Review

KISS ME KATE Production Diary Jan 24th- Feb 12th- 2005
James Ryder on Portsmouth University Creative Arts Music Drama

And so it begins. The great musical quest that is Kiss Me Kate. From audition to performance in 3 weeks. A real challenge if ever I saw one. There will be no shortage of blood sweat and tears in the next 15 days. And who is here to mop it up?

The scripts were read and the rabble of a cast sized up their potential roles. It was obvious from the start that some people were set to take this a lot more seriously than others. As I stumbled into Wiltshire building early Tuesday morning I expected to be one of the first there and so was surprised to find others in the studio. And even more worryingly. Dancing in it. These people had not just arrived. They had been there some time. And judging by the perspiration on them they had been there since the early hours.

The auditions themselves passed in the usual whirlwind of panic, nerves and some strangely calm people. Performances went well and many went bad. It was all over in less than a couple of hours. We would have to wait until the next morning for the results. Our fate would be presented to us then. Most of the cast accepted their roles without complaint. Some of the second years faked surprise at their lead roles and there were tears in the eyes of the first years that didn’t get them. A thundercloud followed one dancer around for the remainder of the week. Murder on the dance floor looks possible.
With the roles allocated things started to really get crazy. More singing and dancing than the average person could take. Legs ached, throats got sore and attention spans shortened. There were many whispers of ‘why exactly did we get involved in this?’ work hard play hard became the motto and days were long but nights longer. Dark eyes and hangovers forced from the body by early morning dance warm-ups.

Week 2 was also when the shit really hit the fan. An intensive rehearsal schedule led to frayed tempers and the mask began to slip. The pressure encouraged tears from many parties. An imaginary sweepstake was established on who would crack first.

The stage was painted and costumes adjusted. It began to look like we had a show on our hands. Production week came round far too quickly with the promise of 12-hour days. There was panic amongst the troops. The high pace of final rehearsals became too much. Autopilot kicked in and like singing dancing zombies we paraded around the stage. The energy was gone.

The dress rehearsal resembles a roller coaster. Everyone climbs aboard and tries to enjoy the ride. We try to brace ourselves for the turns and scream in the right places but know one knows what will happen. The brakes are off. There will be ups and downs. That much we know for sure. We just have to hold on tight and hope for the best. For ultimately we are only pretending to be in control. Some people seemed to possess a better illusion of control than others. Maybe they had studied the ride before climbing on. Other members of the cast seemed to have come to the ride blindfolded, and are refusing to remove it now there strapped in.

The performances themselves passed in a tidal wave of adrenaline and emotion. Unpredictable audiences laughing in the wrong places but clapping in all the right ones. The strange world of theatre.

My notes on the after-show party are limited due to the alcohol I consumed clouding my fragile memory. Hyperactivity was defiantly a theme. A chance to let the hair down and goddamn we had earned it. I had hoped for scandal and drama but witnessed little. Maybe I was constantly looking the wrong direction. A makeshift stage provided me with most of the entertainment. A room of attention seekers couldn’t resist. For a group of people who had been taught to dance for the last 3 weeks some of the dance moves were appalling. 70% enthusiasm and 30% talent. But hey we had our fun.

I sit here on this dark Sunday afternoon. And I look back on all that we have achieved. From nothing to an amazing performance in no time at all. The aching in my head and the sleepless haze of my eyes will fade. But the sense of satisfaction will remain. It’s been one hell of a ride but I’m glad I climbed on board.

And now The Review

Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter
Michelle Cochrane
Performed at the New Theatre Royal - Portsmouth Feb 10-12th 2005
Under the Direction of Dominic Symonds (Stage) George Burrows (Music)

The musical show for the Creative Arts Drama department at the University of Portsmouth this year was Kiss Me Kate, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The theme focuses on a group of struggling actors who are performing the well known play but with similar problems of their own. The performance opened with an all cast number in which the scene was established as the Ford’s Theatre in Central Baltimore.

With our two leads, Ben Macpherson (Frederick Graham) and Emily Wilson (Lilli vanessi), playing to a professional degree, the humour and our true love were accepted, even though, to some extent, they were both characters that we loved to hate. The experience of the two actors was self-evident. Also performing to a high standard were Fiona Poustie as Bianca and Elliot Davis and Tara Smith as two gangsters. Out of all of the characters, the gangsters were by far the best and towards the second half, could have carried the show on their own with their theme song 'Brush up your Shakespeare'.

Throughout our adventure, we got to explore the likes of Le Auld Café Parisien, which was a great touch and the balconies were used to great effect as houses and viewing booths for the directors of the Taming of the Shrew. What was also so brilliant about the show, was the use of well known show stoppers which at times, the audience were able to sing along to and allowed the sense of character to build, two of the most appealing songs being, "I Hate Men." and "It’s Too Darn Hot.".

The numbers never stopped rolling in, with a new song and statement around every corner and the formation of what was destined to be an everlasting love. Just when we think that the characters are on the path to their happily ever after, a new intervention commences, ranging from the entrance of the two gangsters to the mis-sent flowers to our ultimate luvvie, Lilli Vanessi. After all, it never is an easy path to stardom.

Special mentions must also go out to Annaliese Budimir, with her debut solo as well as Alex Hillman who managed to play the two characters of the Jester and Harrison Howell. All of the characters managed to maintain a strong American accent throughout ranging from typical American to Boston to Southern drawl.

The enthusiasm of the cast was excellent, however there were some problems concerning the poor sound coordination, in other words, depending on where you were sitting, the orchestra was too loud for the singing and was also placed in an awkward position which blocked some of the view for the audience.

With it’s exciting numbers, great accents, obvious humour and great choreography, this show is definitely one of the best and most entertaining that the university has performed. With minor adjustments on the sound and orchestra placement, it is clear that this would provide entertainment for all ages of audience. If you had the enjoyment of seeing this show then I am sure that you would agree, it really is a great night out at the theatre.

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