The Menier Chocolate Factory is always one of my favourite theatres to visit. I’ve seen numerous productions there and I’m always struck by how effectively they can transform the small space they have – from the Barnum circus tent to the Into the Woods piano. Besides, it’s technically my local theatre and who doesn’t love leaving the house fifteen minutes before curtain. When I noticed that they were putting on a show I’d vaguely heard of before, I was more than happy to go ahead and book a ticket.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this show. Kiss of the Spider Woman had been through many incarnations: a novel, a film, multiple plays, and a musical, and I wasn’t totally sure which version I was seeing (although obviously it wasn’t the book or the movie). It turned out to be the play, and what a good play it was.
Kiss tells the story of two men in an Argentinian prison, one a political prisoner and one a gay man indicted on a moral charge, interwoven with the film plots the latter tells to pass the time in the prison cell they share.
The set, as expected, was wonderfully immersive. Instead of the usual central staging, the space was instead split almost in half with a large playing area. The stacked rows of seating, higher than usual at the Menier, induced the feeling of surveillance, something that only gets more poignant as the play progresses. The cell is in the centre of the space, with prison doors along walkways behind. These walkways provide a backdrop for projections that bring to life Molina’s films as he recites the plots, which work as a great way to expand the space beyond the cell without complicated set changes. It’s simple, but it works!
When you only have two actors (for the majority of the show) and one unchanging set, the focus automatically falls on the script. If the writing isn’t solid, the audience’s focus quickly wavers but this wasn’t the case with Kiss. The character interactions felt real and the gradual reveal of information kept me hooked. Interweaving the film stories gives the show more depth and their plots give motion to a potentially static situation.
Samuel Barnett and Declan Bennett do a wonderful job of bringing Molina and Valentin to life. They felt like fully realised and detailed characters from the very first preview, so I can only imagine that they will relax even more into their roles as the run progresses. I definitely recommend catching the production if you can and seeing for yourself just how well the Menier can put on a show!