Kiss Me, by Richard Bean, is currently running at Trafalgar Studios 2. Just looking at the press notes I was excited. The credentials behind this production are pretty impressive. First of all the play was written by multi-award winner Richard Bean, who is probably most popular for his play One Man, Two Guvnors. The Director Anna Ledwich has worked alongside directors including Richard Eye and Rupert Goold and is herself Co-Artistic Director of Theatre on the Fly at Chichester Festival Theatre.
The cast for this 70-minute performance is a two-hander superbly performed by Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams. Both performers have been treading the boards for a while, working on some critically acclaimed productions and my expectations are high.
The set is small; It’s a bedroom, well, a single bed with side tables set in front of a collection of mirrors. (The audience is able to see themselves in the reflection). We’re in London and it’s 1929. There is music (appropriate to the time) being broadcast. Our protagonist is getting ready, fixing herself, and tidying the bedroom as she goes, we can see she is nervous, a position that we have all be in, getting ready to meet someone important, someone, who matters – she removes her wedding ring and turns down the photo of a man, a soldier, presumably her husband.
Times are hard, Stephanie is thoroughly modern (she drives a lorry and drinks rum at 11 am in the morning!). Her husband, let’s call him Tony, like many men of the time, didn’t return from war. Following on from The Great War, there aren’t many men around and if a woman wants a child the choices are limited: turkey baster or a visit to Dr Trollop.
Stephanie, our protagonist has called Dr Trollop for assistance. (we never meet Dr Trollop)
Over the following 70 minutes, we delve deep into the psyche of two of Dr Trollop’s subjects as they meet for the first time with a view to getting Stephanie pregnant so she can have her wish, a baby.
This piece is a rather unorthodox love story set in a post World War One London. The male shortage /pregnancy issue isn’t something that I was aware of. To be honest, I’m not sure if the story is based on urban legend, or this actually happened. However, either way, the piece presents as hugely intimate – as an audience member I felt like a voyeur at some points.
The subject matter is uncomfortable and explicit, it’s birth, sex, love, and death.
Our protagonists are haunted by memories past and doing their best to deal with current and future demands and obligations. They are confined by the unspoken rules of society and the parameters set by Dr Trollop’ prior to their meeting – however, rules are there to be broken aren’t they?
The piece is very pacy and comes with a healthy dose of humour. Claire Lams’ comic timing is superb, with a joyous mixture of sarcasm and quick wit that made me warm to her easily. Her character is juxtaposed with the calculated, calm and controlled intellectual Dennis performed by Ben Lloyd-Hughes. The performers bounce off each other and there is genuine chemistry on that stage. As we delve deeper into their relationship and their motivations we see each character unravel a bit and lose themselves in the moment. Their characterisation is highly developed, interesting to watch and performed with ease and expertise.
In the “non-acting” elements of this production work well together and enhance the piece; the costume design is on-point, mirroring our characters social-economic position in society, later in the production we see Dennis in dishevelled un-ironed clothes, as he unravels in mind and physicality in front of us. The music is beautifully matched to the piece and the lighting frames the production well, transporting us in and out of scenes and showing time passed.
Although the piece is set in 1929, a lot of the issues raised in the production as still relevant today, most certainly the prescribed roles and attitudes towards woman, single mothers. The ability to “make love” without the love. One’s duty to their own country and of course the economic climate.
Review by Faye Stockley
Kiss Me Overview
“I’m thirty two and I want a baby. There are no men.”
A desperate woman. A chivalrous man. And a forbidden kiss that changes everything.
Richard Bean’s new play is a beautiful and unorthodox love story about two people struggling to escape the guilt and ghosts of the past, set against the shifting world of London post-World War I.
Kiss Me by multi-award winning writer Richard Bean, transfers to the Trafalgar Studios after a sold out run at Hampstead Theatre. His other plays include One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain, Made in Dagenham and the recent sell out hit The Nap, which starred Jack O’Connell.
Director Anna Ledwich will be returning to the Trafalgar Studios following her Olivier-award nomination for Four Minutes Twelve Seconds.
Booking to 8th July 2017
Book Tickets for Trafalgar Studios