Kiss Me Kate: Not a Big Hand for Miss Vanessi

01 2013 Coburg Dirk Mestmacher & Lenneke Willemsen

Most Kiss Me Kate spankings are done by hand. So Lenneke Willemsen here, upended over Dirk Mestmacher’s knee in the 2013 production at Coburg, might not know when she’s well off… until her luck changes. And I don’t just mean the fact that he’s pulled up her skirt:

02 2013 Coburg Dirk Mestmacher & Lenneke Willemsen

The reason you don’t often see spanking by implement is because it is a spanking given completely on the spur of the moment: Fred Graham doesn’t come on stage knowing he’s going to spank Lilli Vanessi, so when he does so he can only use what he already has with him – and generally that means the all-purpose tool that’s permanently attached! Taking off his belt like Dirk is another option, but more often directors remember that in traditional 20th-century productions of The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio carried a whip – which means he often does in Kiss Me Kate too, right back to the original 1948 production. Alfred Drake didn’t use it on Patricia Morison’s bottom, except in the version of the scene rendered by the Broadway caricaturist Al Hirschfeld:


But some later Freds weren’t so restrained, like this member of the Trinity Operatic Society of Congleton, Cheshire, in 2008:

04 2008 Congleton

Sometimes the whip is not the kind that might be used by a lion- (or shrew-) tamer, but more of a riding whip or switch, as in this Dutch production from 1964:

05 1964 Dutch

The same approach was taken at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, in 1989, when husband and wife Fred and Lilli were played by husband and wife Victor Young and Jayne Lewis:

06 1989 Stratford Festival Ontario

But occasionally we see something stranger…

The 2008 production at a Maryland high school was one of those rare delights, a two-spanking Kiss Me Kate, in which Petruchio spanks Kate and then Fred spanks Lilli. The latter was a hand-job, only unconventional because Fred bends Lilli over a chair instead of putting her across his knee:

07 2008 Magruder08 2008 Magruder09 2008 Magruder

But the first spanking is an altogether more peculiar affair. It begins when Petruchio bends Kate over a table.

10 2008 Magruder11 2008 Magruder

What’s he going to whack her with? You’ll have to squint to see:

12 2008 Magruder 113 2008 Magruder 2

Earlier in the scene, Kate came on stage laying about her with a broom… and now Petruchio is laying about her with it in a rather different sense!

Domestic implements again menaced Lilli’s rear end in the publicity photos for the 2006 production by Tynemouth Amateur Operatic Society at Whitley Bay Playhouse. To be precise, she’s being walloped with a carpet-beater!

14 2006 Tynemouth15 2006 Tynemouth

But for sheer incongruous oddity, nothing beats what Steve Newport used on Jan Morgan at Neil’s Theater, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, in 1981:

1981 Mountain Lakes New Jersey

‘The paddling of your life’ – and how! But surely not onstage? When I first saw this, I assumed it must be just a staged publicity shot. But no, he really did spank her with that enormous paddle in the production itself, and was directed to throw it over his shoulder when he’d finished… causing cast members behind him to scatter in self-protective disarray! Which leaves us with a minor mystery: what on earth was the paddle doing onstage in the first place?

One thought on “Kiss Me Kate: Not a Big Hand for Miss Vanessi

  1. jimc says:

    I always prefer hand spankings, but I imagine at the time there would be implements I do seem to remember Petruchio always carrying a quirt or some implement for a donkey and I imagine that there would have been butter paddles around at that time as well. Great finds. Thank you for sharing them. have a great day.


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