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Kiss Of The Spider Woman Review: Excellent performances and a lavish set

Kiss Of The Spider Woman 

Menier Chocolate Factory, London                          Until May 5, 1hr 40mins

Rating:

Manuel Puig wrote this as a novel in 1976 and it has since spawned an industry. It has been adapted into a play, a Broadway musical (by the writers of Cabaret, no less) and a 1985 Oscar-winning film, starring William Hurt.

I remember being knocked out by the play when it was staged on the London fringe yonks ago. It had Simon Callow as the gay shop-window dresser banged up in a brutal Argentinian jail, and an unknown Mark Rylance as the Left-wing political activist he is there with.

To pass the time, Molina – the gay one – weaves exotic stories based on the plots of old Forties panther-woman and zombie-girl horror movies. It is his way of escaping a hellhole where prisoners are tortured, poisoned and spied on by the fascist junta.

Samuel Barnett as Molina with Declan Bennett as Valentin. Manuel Puig wrote this as a novel in 1976 It has been adapted into a play, a Broadway musical and a 1985 Oscar-winning film

Samuel Barnett as Molina with Declan Bennett as Valentin. Manuel Puig wrote this as a novel in 1976 It has been adapted into a play, a Broadway musical and a 1985 Oscar-winning film

Molina’s secret love for the macho Valentin very slowly transforms his sullen, activist cellmate. He cooks and cleans and his tender ministrations (often thankless) gradually soften Valentin’s heart, until the two men eventually find solace under a grubby sheet. I suspect hardened prisoners might laugh cynically at such romance.

This production also has two excellent performances. As Molina, a pallid Samuel Barnett – who made his name as a sixth-former in The History Boys – repairs Valentin’s brutalised body with tenderness and tea. Declan Bennett, as the brooding recipient of his care, laps up the movie plots and is tortured by their eroticism.

This production has two excellent performances. Samuel Barnett as Molina with Declan Bennett as Valentin

This production has two excellent performances. Samuel Barnett as Molina with Declan Bennett as Valentin

IT’S A FACT 

The 1985 movie was shot inside a disused Brazilian jail. During filming, star William Hurt underwent a botched kidnap attempt

The setting is 1975 – a wall calendar says so. So why does Jose Rivera and Allan Baker’s version sound updated? Is it meant to be now or then?

The shadowy film projections and Jon Bausor’s lavish concrete set are amazing, but superfluous. Molina’s film fantasies are, after all, conjured entirely out of speech.

I am happier with my memories of the original. But this story still goes admirably against the grain. It seems to say: forget all-consuming love – that’s for the movies. In the end, it is human kindness that conquers all

 

49 Donkeys Hanged

The Drum, Plymouth                                                               Until Sat, 1hr 20mins

Rating:

Down in the West Country, God works in mysterious ways. He tells farmer Stanley Bray to hang the local donkey population. Stanley (Ed Gaughan) duly pulls the rope until the braying stops. Stanley’s son mysteriously disappeared 30 years ago and Stanley’s wife hasn’t left the house since. Could ‘Slaughterhouse Sally’ (Buffy Davis), who chainsaws the carcasses at the abattoir, have anything to do with it?

Director Simon Stokes encourages this brazen libel of West Country folk, who’ve clearly all been sniffing the sheep dip, and the whole thing is very funny

Director Simon Stokes encourages this brazen libel of West Country folk, who’ve clearly all been sniffing the sheep dip, and the whole thing is very funny

This missing-person-and-donkey-abuse saga is unmistakably the work of gothic theatre specialist Carl Grose, whose The Grinning Man is a West End hit.

Director Simon Stokes encourages this brazen libel of West Country folk, who’ve clearly all been sniffing the sheep dip, and the whole thing is very funny. But beware: the contents are as unsavoury as a suspect pasty 

 

Agnes Colander

Ustinov Studio, Bath                                                                    Until April 14, 2hrs 

Rating:

This unknown play is from a just-discovered script by Harley Granville Barker. It’s an intriguing find, set in 1900, about a young woman who has left her adulterous husband to live as an artist in a London attic. Naomi Frederick superbly brings to life Agnes’s inner emancipation as an artist and as the potential lover of two men, a gruff Danish painter (Matthew Flynn) and a milksop English gent (Freddy Carter).

Naomi Frederick superbly brings to life Agnes’s inner emancipation as an artist and as the potential lover of two men, a gruff Danish painter (Matthew Flynn) and a milksop English gent (Freddy Carter)

Naomi Frederick superbly brings to life Agnes’s inner emancipation as an artist and as the potential lover of two men, a gruff Danish painter (Matthew Flynn) and a milksop English gent (Freddy Carter)

The second half, set in Normandy, comes with the sound of oyster-catchers and waves, as Agnes resolves to ride life’s tricky tide. Wordy but not boring, this early feminist play undeniably has the feel of a draft, not a completed thing. But Trevor Nunn’s production is flawless and Rob Jones’s detailed designs are a picture 

 

Miss Nightingale

Hippodrome Casino, London                                  Until May 6, 2hrs 30mins 

Rating:

London during the Blitz and northerner Maggie Brown (Lauren Chinery), a nurse who is an aspiring singer, secures a residency in a new cabaret club as the saucy Miss Nightingale. She doesn’t know – and nor does anyone else – that her songwriter friend George (Matthew Floyd Jones) is having a relationship with the club’s owner, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Oliver Mawdsley).

London during the Blitz and northerner Maggie Brown (Lauren Chinery), a nurse who is an aspiring singer, secures a residency in a new cabaret club as the saucy Miss Nightingale

London during the Blitz and northerner Maggie Brown (Lauren Chinery), a nurse who is an aspiring singer, secures a residency in a new cabaret club as the saucy Miss Nightingale

This is a chamber musical with a talented six-strong cast of actor-musicians playing the instruments. However, many of the gags are tired double-entendres and some of the songs Miss Nightingale belts out – such as The Pussy Song and Sausage Song – are hopelessly innuendo-laden.

I found myself wondering what the far better ‘serious’ songs, including Mr Nightingale and Understudy, would sound like if arranged for a bigger band and allowed to breathe.

Neil Armstrong



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