Kiss Of The Spider Woman – May 2007

8/10

By: Manuel Puig, translated by Allan Baker

Directed by: Charlotte Westenra

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date: Thursday 17th May 2007

As this play got underway, I felt a sense of misgiving. I wasn’t sure I’d find two men talking together in a prison for two hours either interesting or enjoyable. (I hadn’t seen the film, and knew practically nothing about it.) I changed my opinion pretty soon, though, as the characters began to develop and the relationship emerged.

Will Keen as Molina starts things off. He’s talking about the storyline of a film he’s seen, about a panther woman. He’s a bit camp, and the softness of his voice meant I missed a lot of this bit. Once Rupert Evans, as Valentin, gets more involved, though, I found I could follow it a lot more.

As the days pass (Molina takes the pages off a calendar, so we can see when each scene happens) we get to know them better. Molina considers himself a woman – at least he aspires to be one. Slightly different from being a homosexual, as he doesn’t want to be a man having sex with another man. We’re not told exactly what he’s in jail for (or I didn’t hear it, possibly), but I assume it’s because he’s gay. His mother, whom he worships, is ill, and that appears to be his main worry during his time in prison. He’s always being kind to Valentin, and getting precious little back. Valentin is a young idealistic political activist. In Argentina. This means he’s determined to suffer for the cause, and continues to pump himself full of Marxist theory during his spare time. His disgust at the exploitation of others doesn’t include his own exploitation of Molina, although he does try to refuse his help as often as he can – it’s one of the main sources of tension between the two men.

At the end of the first half we get confirmation that Molina is being asked to spy on Valentin by the prison officials, and it’s also clear that he’s becoming more and more reluctant to rat on his cellmate. He keeps telling Valentin not to tell him things – names, etc. – in case he gets interrogated. Valentin is a bit naive, and doesn’t seem to grasp the danger. He’s finding he’d rather be with a woman who left the organisation, instead of the woman in the organisation who’s nominally his girlfriend. She’s off shagging someone else now he’s in prison, as dedication to the cause precludes personal attachments.

The two men grow closer, and eventually, they have sex. Molina’s time is nearly up. As he hasn’t got any information from Valentin, the prison officials have decided to release him, and then follow him to see who he contacts on Valentin’s behalf. At the end, Molina asks Valentin for the information that Valentin’s being anxious to give him, and the two men embrace. That’s the end of the play, and we’re left in delicious ambiguity as to what Molina’s going to do with the information. He’s in love with Valentin, but will he betray him deliberately, or just accidentally, by being followed?

I loved both performances. Will Keen was excellent as a man-woman, and Rupert Evans got across the self-righteousness of the idealist very well. I could see nothing but problems for both men, given the system they’re living under, and it’s a great example of how to make a protest and show the bigger picture by focusing on the personal and the individual. I’m really glad I saw this.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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