Reviews Roundup: Kiss Me Kate with Adrian Dunbar

Barbican Centre

Stephanie J Block and Adrian Dunbar sit in dressing gowns in a theatre dressing room in a scene from Kiss Me Kate at the Barbican Theatre London
Stephanie J Block & Adrian Dunbar in Kiss Me Kate. Photo: Johan Persson

The Barbican must be hoping Kiss Me Kate follows in the footsteps of that other Cole Porter musical Anything Goes which was a huge critical and financial success for them a few years ago. The added attraction is the prospect of seeing Adrian Dunbar from Line Of Duty as the male lead. The critics were generally complimentary about Bartlett Sher‘s staging of the musical-within-a-musical that is inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and features songs such as I Hate Men and Brush Up Your Shakespeare. Their reaction to Mr Dunbar was on the whole lukewarm, but they had no reservations about the quality of his co-star, Broadway musical royalty Stephanie J Block.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Guardian‘s David Jays (4★) said, ‘In Bartlett Sher’s plushly enjoyable staging, it delivers glorious music and falderol frivolity.’ Clive Davis in The Times (4★) called it ‘enormous fun’. Tim Bano for The Independent (4★) found it, ‘a supremely lovely, supremely silly way to spend a summer evening’. He praised Stephanie Block’s solos as ‘models in how to control your voice, invest emotionally in a song and knock the roof off.’ Gary Naylor for BroadwayWorld (4★) was sure ‘few will leave feeling short-changed, even at these prices’.

Adam Bloodworth at City AM (4★) declared: ‘Stuffed with old-fashioned jokes that should probably have this show cancelled, hilarious comic sketches and some stunning pieces of choreography, Kiss Me Kate is a showstopper of a summer musical’. Alex Wood at WhatsOnStage (4★) said it was ‘a scorchingly successful night out‘. Tom Wicker for Time Out (4★) was also won over: ‘This is a lush, wittily spectacular production’. He had particular praise for Stephanie Block: ‘Block commands the stage. She’s charismatic, versatile and makes every note – in every sense – sing.’ He thought the two leads ‘have delightful chemistry’.

Nick Curtis in the Standard (3★) disagreed and described it as ‘solid, serviceable, but unexciting, thanks partly to the lack of chemistry between the leads.’ The Stage‘s David Benedict (3★) was on the same wavelength about the lack of chemistry: ‘Bartlett Sher’s fitful, over-bright, strained staging most often misfires because of chemistry – or, rather, the lack of it.’

So, what about Adrian Dunbar?

Fiona Mountford at the i (4★) devoted much of her review to praising him: ‘Dunbar can both hold a tune and command the Barbican’s imposingly large stage.’ The  Times was happy enough with his performance, ‘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.‘ Time Out too was complimentary: ‘Dunbar has a decent voice and a lovely way with gentle comedy.’

A few reviewers had reservations. The Independent said, ‘He can hold a tune, but there’s a tight, buzzing bee quality to his voice’. The Guardian wasn’t convinced, ‘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’. The Standard noted, ‘He sings better than I had hoped but seems uncomfortable and off the pace throughout’.

Two more reviews were downright disapproving. The Stage said, ‘while Block acts with Adrian Dunbar…he merely acts at her…Dunbar gets away with comedy numbers, but his obvious unease around pitch and the extreme vocal range robs the songs and the show of emotion and potential glory.’ Broadway World liked him for ‘Television, films, straight plays… but not musicals’.

Average critics’ rating 3.8★
Value Rating 30 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Kiss Me Kate can be seen at the Barbican until 14 September 2024. Buy tickets direct from The Barbican

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