KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN
by Manuel Puig.
In a version by Jose Rivera & Allan Baker.
Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU to 5 May 2018.
Tues-Sat 8pm Mar Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 40 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1713
Review: William Russell 22 March.
Compelling tale of love and death
In a prison in Argentina Molina, a gay window dresser, shares a cell with Valentin, a political prisoner – the novel, written in 1976, was turned into a play in 1983 and subsequently became the book of a Kander and Ebb musical. It offers the two actors splendid roles and Samuel Barnett as Molina and Declan Bennett as Valentin play off one another very effectively.
Peron is in power. This is a world in which Left wing activists are arrested and tortured, people disappear, democracy does not exist. Molina has been put in with Valentin as a plant, the hope being that he will get his Marxist cellmate to reveal just what his group is up to. To pass the time he recounts the plots of horror movies like Cat Woman which he adores, and gradually the two men form a friendship, which turns to love. It is an effective chamber piece a little bit lost in the surprisingly vast spaces of the Menier auditorium which has been reconfigured into the prison with a walk way of cells around the walls. The actual cell is a space surrounded by wasteland which rather distances the audience from the two men and prevents the intimacy the play demands.
Barnett and Bennett create believable characters, the one delicately gay – Barnett avoides excessive camping around with care, and is just a shaven headed man in prison gear who falls in love and struggles with the betrayal which will lead to his release – the other is all man but one desperately needing human contact and aware he is not going to get out.
The tales are cleverly illustrated by a sort of lantern show projected on the prison walls and Laurie Sansom has kept things moving – the scene when the two men finally make love is particularly striking. The result is a rewarding evening although the translation does have some moments towards the end when things do not quite work – the tales about the movies are very funny, but when Valentin starts to explain his feelings the words go slightly out of kilter, his speeches are speeches rather than a disclosure of real feelings. But the production is well worth catching all the same even by those who long for Kander and Ebb.
Molina: Samuel Barnett.
Valentin: Declan Bennett.
Warden: Grace Cookey-Gam.
Director: Laurie Sansom.
Designer: Jon Bausor.
Lighting Designer: Paul Anderson.
Composer & Sound Designer: Philip Pinsky.
Projection Designer: Andrzej Goulding.
Movement Director: Georgina Lamb.