Making a rare visit to Glasgow with their acclaimed Kiss Me Kate, the R.S.C. is a company under crossfire. Stephanie Billen quizzes two ofthe stars.
Compared to Hollywood. acting in Brtain is ‘about as cut-throat as a jelly-baby.‘ insists Nichola McAuliffe. star ofthe RSC’s Kiss Me Kate. But if all is sweetness and light within the theatre. outside it the cut-throats have been having a field-day. At the same time as commenting on the dearth of exciting RSC Shakespeares (with the exception ofJonathan Price‘s Macbeth). critics have been applauding new ventures such as the English Shakespeare Company and Bogdanov’s approach to Henry V
Now it seems that Kiss Me Kate. surprisingly enough. has prompted an attack on another score. Why. questioned David Hayman (Associate Director of7z84 Scotland Theatre C o) in The Scotsman recently. should an English production ofa Cole Porter musical receive £65000 from the Scottish Arts Council to appear in Glasgow when. he says. ‘Scottish theatre companies are being starved through inadequate funding'?‘
Whatever the arguments surrounding the funding ofa production Hayman describes as 'blatantly commercial‘. one thing remains a certainty: Kiss Me Kate is superb entertainment. On their first visit to Glasgow for ten years. the RSC seem more than likely to pack ‘em in at the Theatre Royal. The all-singing and dancing spectacle based on The Taming ()f The Shrew. is so exuberant that cynics might be expected to eat their hats. and the Bard himself rock with merriment in his grave.
‘l'm enjoying the part immensely,‘ admits its leading lady. sitting in jeans at a crowded dressing table. and showing no trace of exhaustion after a performance in Stratford which has had her singing her heart out in the ‘80 Kiss Me Kate‘ finale not ten minutes before. She‘s disconcertineg unlike Lilli Vanessi. the glamorous actress she plays in Porter's play-within-a-play musical. Lilli. sparring with her ex-husband and co-star Fred Graham. then playing opposite him as a particularly contrary Kate in the Ford Theater. Baltimore's The Taming ()f The Shrew. is like a cross between a petulant Bette Davis and pompous Penelope Keith.
Nichola. on the other hand. is relaxed. down to earth. and about as fonnidably uppercrust as. well. a jelly-baby. What‘s more. her relationship in real life with Fred/Petruchio actor Paul Jones. has
been less a question ofsparring as of ‘shrieking with laughter.’ Like
Reggie and Anna in the old days of News At Ten. she says. ‘We always have a little chat during the kiss at
the end. Tonight I told him his moustache had just gone up my nose,‘
The actors‘ sense of fun is quite probably what makes the show. ‘You never get bored. because you’re always finding things that you have never been quite happy with. or reacting to the way someone does something. Tonight I lost my shoe in the fight and Paul said “that‘s great. can you do it always?“ ‘
Listening to each other all the time. she says. was something advised by the show’s director Adrian Noble. But Noble. directing his first big musical. also scored by pointing up the serious play-like aspects of Kiss Me Kate. ‘You can throw on a musical just like that ifyou don‘t think about it too much. but Adrian concentrated very much on the journeys of the characters. It is an intelligent musical and quite moving)
Lilli. for example, goes from tit-for-tat repartee to a final admission that she was wrong— ‘She is an extremely sophisticated product of Hollywood who is affected by Shakespeare’s Kate so that she becomes a warmer person at the end.‘ But. adds Nichola. ‘All of the four main characters have journeys; they each have an aria where they say what they feel for their other halves. Lois Lane (Bianca) is one of the first when she sings ‘Why can‘t you behave‘?‘ to Bill. but Fred. the Petruchio character, is about the last. He manipulates everyone and Porter leaves it till the last three pages of the
script to make him realise he loves her.
The idea behind it all is perhaps more plausible for having been loosely based on a stage-manager‘s account of real-life bickering between Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne when they were playing The Taming Of The Shrew together. but having played the Bianca/Lois Lane part in a Nottingham Playhouse Kiss Me Kate. Nichola is equally enchanted by the other characters of the musical.
‘Lois is a superb part,‘ she says of the bombshell who flirts with everyone and doubles up as the pretty sister of the Shrew. ‘She‘s like Monroe in that she is someone who just was what she was — the type of woman that women hate. Like when Marilyn Monroe‘s bra-strap breaks in the middle of a press conference. I
mean you'd say it was fixed. but no. it‘s just what she was. It is the not knowing— like when Lois sings that she is “always true to you in her fashion".‘
For all that. she was grateful to be playing Lilli in the RSC version. if only because she hardly had to dance. She claims to have existed as an actor almost from the moment she was born. albeit weakening to consider forensic science as a close second. but dancing was another matter. ‘I danced at college and loathed it.‘ By contrast. she is clearly a natural singer. again the operatic tones slightly unbelievable coming from her plain-spoken lips. More accurately ofcourse. they emanate from somewhere around her diaphragm. She lifts up her baggy red shirt and reveals a surprising spare tyre underneath her bust. ‘l have 35in ribs and a 36in bust.‘ she says. ‘very ugly in dresses. but very necessary if I‘m to breathe properly and carry my voice.‘ Just in case she doesn‘t. she says the RSC‘s voice coach. Cicely Berry. is a great one for bellowing ‘Can‘t ‘ear ya'. from the back ofthe stalls. Stratford. warns Nichola. is the worst place to come to ifyou want to sing. ‘I hate it — it is the dampest place — l have had nothing but colds and bronchitis since I‘ve been here.‘ (She actually lives in London where she says it is a different sort of‘smoggy air’.)
Nevertheless. sounding off without catching breath is a talent which she
has found can take her through from Oscar Wilde's ‘long sentences‘. to Arnold Wesker‘s ‘musical phrases' and. with Kiss Me Kate. from ballads like ‘So in love am 1'. to the uproarious ‘I hate men’ — in which
‘You never get bored’
something of Nicholas true earthiness seems to reveal itself. . .
Armed with a voice like hers. and a show like Kiss Me Kate. Nichola is far from nervous about competing with High Society in London. or even about crossing the border to what could be a mixed reception in Glasgow — ‘lt is such an interesting city and it doesn‘t have that kind of middle-class “fur coat and no knickers" sort of attitude we get in so many of these places we have to go to.' she says. One place she won‘t be going to is Broadway. Adrian Noble is to take the production there. but with a completely different cast from Canada. It is no great loss as far as Nichola is concerned. ‘I went to America once and l have no desire to return. I went to Hollywood for a few months as an observer and I found I was craving — like a pregnant woman craves — for someone to be rude to me in a supermarket. l longed for a 'l‘esco — instead of people saying “I low are you today'.’”. then looking shocked when you told them. or saying “I lave a nice day" just after they've told you you'll never work again or
6The List 3— 16 April