FEATURE: Behind the scenes of a £500,000 production at Kilworth House Theatre

Costume and set designer Paul Farnsworth.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER
Costume and set designer Paul Farnsworth. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

As the season starts at one of the district’s most popular venues, Alex Dawson and Andrew Carpenter were granted backstage passes to see how a production is put together at Kilworth House Theatre.

On the big stage at Kilworth House Theatre, 16 toned dancers run through the choreography of the show-stopping musical number ‘Too Darn Hot’.

Kiss me Kate rehearsals on stage at Kilworth House Theatre.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Kiss me Kate rehearsals on stage at Kilworth House Theatre. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

It is hot too, for May; turning the beautiful outdoors-y setting of this unique Harborough district theatre into - as one of the actors jokes - a sort of “Center Parcs for Showbiz”.

Off-duty actors play badminton on a makeshift court at the Actor’s Village. Others sip soft drinks in the sunshine.

Backstage, a forest of props, neatly labelled, waits on trestle tables.

A technician passing by explains how a strip of tampon is used to soak up performers’ sweat - “it’s so it doesn’t affect their head mics”.

Jade Digweed repairs a costume.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Jade Digweed repairs a costume. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Half a dozen rows back in the auditorium, choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane is thinking on her feet as the cast concentrate through the first day of Kilworth rehearsals for the forthcoming show Kiss Me Kate.

“Let’s not have you doing the job, let’s have you going round the outside” Sam tells a dancer through her microphone. “Craig where are you running? OK, you’ll have to run behind... Oh that’s lovely.”

The cast break down a section of the song that involves throwing a hat round the stage, doing it in chunks and in slow motion.

Every step for every dancer has to be right. This is a show that costs £500,000 to put on, and West End standards are expected.

Kiss me Kate rehearsals at Kilworth House Theatre.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Kiss me Kate rehearsals at Kilworth House Theatre. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“They’re a great ensemble cast” director Matthew White tells the Mail. “They’re all sort of ‘triple threat’ (fine actors, singers and dancers); they can all do everything.”

After three weeks of rehearsals in London, Kilworth’s Kiss Me Kate moved into its on-site rehearsal phase when we arrived. The show is a witty musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew, studded with fine Cole Porter songs.

It runs from now until July 16, and is already “80 per cent sold out” says theatre administrator Alison Chapman.

It’s Kilworth theatre’s 10th season this year - and it’s become a big local success story.

Set builders...Tim Peacock and Ian Shipley.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Set builders...Tim Peacock and Ian Shipley. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Just as well, because a show like Kiss Me Kate brings 55 London-trained “creatives”, actors, musicians and dancers to Leicestershire - all staying in digs locally.

Theatre founder and show producer Celia Mackay now admits: “My brother said ‘only my sister would open a theatre in the middle of nowhere and expect people to come.’”

But amazingly, Kilworth has worked - due to Celia’s insistence on West End standards from the set (by Paul Farnsworth) to the quality of the actors. The theatre holds 550 people and often sells out.

So why should people go and see Kiss Me Kate?

“It’s a really feelgood musical” says director Matthew. “Forget the outside world for a while and have a good time.”

And Caroline Sheen, who plays Kate in the show, has a phrase that probably goes for the whole Kilworth Theatre idea too: “It’s outstanding, outrageous and outdoors”.

Choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane and director Matthew White.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane and director Matthew White. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

The actors village.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

The actors village. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Judy Gurney and Natalie Learmouth work on costumes for the show.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Judy Gurney and Natalie Learmouth work on costumes for the show. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Cassandra Stephens works on a wig.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Cassandra Stephens works on a wig. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Caroline Sheen in make-up.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Caroline Sheen in make-up. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Monique Young during make-up.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Monique Young during make-up. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER