I was taught that the highest purpose for theatre is to reflect and change society, challenge the way you think or feel and leave you actively willing to impact the (quality of) life of not just yourself, but those around you both immediately and thereafter.
Kiss of the Spider Woman did just that; reflecting societies concepts of the stereotype that is ‘man’ and then challenging these insecurities arising from the limitations of these expectations. Molina (Samuel Barnett) challenges this stereotype of what Valentin (Declan Bennett) thinks ‘man’ should be by asking him “what’s wrong with being sensitive: if every man was more sensitive there would be no torture” and this topic of conversation hits the main theme of how I perceive the play.
As a production, The Menier Chocolate Factory’s Kiss of the Spider Woman is one of the most successfully collaborative pieces of theatre I have seen: each and every production element from the detailed design to the direction of the action, aids the wonderful storytelling and creates a world which I could invest in for almost two hours without hesitation. The journey of Molina and Valentin takes us to incredibly tense high-stakes and calm tenderness and I don’t think this would have been possible without the creative collaboration of all production departments.
My own skills and interests, however, lead me to the action. The skills of Barnett and Bennett are exciting, inspiring and executed to the highest standards – to even begin to comprehend the emotional intensity that Barnett and Bennett invests in this journey is difficult. For inspirational purposes, I would recommend any young actors to catch this play at the Menier Chocolate Factory mainly for the technical mastery of the action between Barnett and Bennett from the connection they form for their relationship to the physical embodiment of their contrasting yet constantly adapting characters. My appreciation for the talent of Barnett and Bennett did not stop developing until the very last beat.
Laurie Sansom‘s vision for sharing this harrowing story with us is well rounded and does not leave a single detail out of producing a story with so much light and shade that predicting the action is out of the question. Together with Jon Bauser, the visual concepts are immediately engaging, however, it does take some adjusting to accommodate the split focus with projection on top of the action. Nevertheless, when adjusted, the combination of Andrzej Goulding’s projection and Barnett’s connection to the text creates five or six different well-painted (with words as well as images) locations, all with such passion and attention to detail.
The adapters José Rivera and Allan Baker really make us think with their choice of text from the original text by Manuel Puig as the ongoing theme of movies and creative forms being used as a relief of suffering is something we can immediately learn from.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is playing at The Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 May 2018
Photo: Nobby Clark