Kiss Me Kate: Mother of God! Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar can actually sing

Stephanie J Block and Adrian Dunbar in Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican
Stephanie J Block and Adrian Dunbar in Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican - Getty

Bent coppers can rest easy this summer – unless they’ve got a particular aversion to showtunes, that is. Line 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.

Dunbar plays Fred Graham, the director and leading man of an American musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. He has recruited ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, now a Hollywood star, to play Katharine opposite his Petruchio, but the battle of wills in this spiky comedy is soon mirrored by the divorced couple’s all-out war.

Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous production is particularly well attuned to Sam and Bella Spewack’s wittily Shakespearean play-within-a-play conceit, using a busy revolve that constantly whisks us between on- and backstage (marvellous lofty design by Michael Yeargan). In one bravura sequence, an argument erupts mid-show, then continues as Lilli and Fred storm into the wings and then their dressing rooms, the fast-changing set matching their rising tempers and blurred boundaries.

Dunbar lacks Fred’s monstrous ego, but does passionately convey his lifelong commitment to his craft. He lands the wry aphorisms with audience-charming aplomb, and, in Fred’s paean to past lovers, has fun with Porter’s deeply silly cod-Italian rhymes (“My Becky-Wecky-oh” / “Ponte Vecchio”). He has a lovely crooning voice, however his accent wanders and his dancing is more stairlift than Astaire.

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.

Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican
Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican - Johan Persson

Peter Davison is a hoot as the general with a roving eye, Charlie Stemp supplies sensational tap dancing and cheeky charisma, and the magnificent Georgina Onuorah rescues the uncomfortable MeToo subplot which sees much-older men, including the director, take advantage of ingénue Lois. She’s very much in charge here, making Always True to You In My Fashion a girl-power triumph.

There are other significant changes that address the dated sexual politics. Fred no longer spanks Lilli (he comes close, but is halted by his castmates’ censorious stares), and he addresses us directly, acknowledging that “contemporary audiences find it difficult” to see Petruchio aggressively taming his shrew.

But 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.

The only bizarre directorial choice is cutting out a section of the stage for the orchestra pit, stranding the performers too far back and essentially creating a giant pothole that you feel someone is bound to tumble into. Otherwise, this cleverly retuned classic show has all the makings of a sizzling summer hit.

Until Sept 14. Tickets: 020 7870 2500;