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Review of Kiss of the Spider Woman By Manuel Puig

Declan Bennett (Valentin), Samuel Barnett (Molina) – image by Nobby Clark

As if preemptively attuning you to the confined space in which the two protagonists will inhabit – both physically and mentally – Laurie Sansom’s new production of Kiss of the Spider Woman shoves its actors onto the stage prematurely. And it works – after all, it’s hard to imagine being thrust into this cramped, hostile and impassioned environment without ample warning.

And thrust we are. Thrown immediately into one of the four movies the coy, camp Molina (Samuel Barnett) recounts vivaciously to his hardened cellmate, Valentin (Declan Bennett). The antithetical pair are held up in an Argentinian prison circa 1975. Molina (theoretically a transgender woman, although very much a shaven-headed male in this iteration) is in for “corruption of a minor” while Valentin is a political dissenter.

The retelling of these movies offer a chance for both to momentarily escape from their insipid surroundings, but also serves as a platform for them to bicker about their contrasting ideologies. While Molina is encapsulated by all things romantic, distilling a sense of purity on each of the women he paints, Valentin focusses on the occasionally troublesome themes that recur in the subtext – like, say, Nazi propaganda. They also highlight the glorious skill of Projection Designer Andrzej Goulding, whose visual annotations of the stories flicker on the walls behind, providing a welcome break from incarceration, even if it betrays the actual premise of the act.

While Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel has always been a complex one, this adaptation by José Rivera condenses the piece nicely. Self-professedly attempting to haul Puig into the 21st century, he adds a modern spice to the proceedings, and thankfully fleshes out Valentin’s political reasonings, as well as tapping deeper into Molina’s psyche. The ensuing love story is subsequently more rewarding. Unfortunately, what is gained in character development is somewhat lost in plot, especially when it comes to Molina’s devious defection. The scenes with the Warden (Grace Cookey-Gam) lack the menace and conviction of previous versions.

This is less a result of Cookey-Gam, who is fine in the role, but more down to the general lack of place that pervades through the play. All of its Latin American roots seem stripped and, despite Declan Bennett’s impressively layered performance, I miss the Hispanic passion that usually comes with Valentin’s role.

Even so, these quips fail to detract from the shining light that is Samuel Barnett’s eternally industrious work, as well as the more pertinent pitting of apolitical vs political and fiction vs reality in an age where it becomes increasingly harder to discern the difference.

4 stars

Review by Wilf Dutton

This ground-breaking play is a provocative tale of love, victimisation, fantasy and the friendship that develops between two strikingly different men imprisoned together in a Latin American jail.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
By Manuel Puig
A new adaptation by
José Rivera & Allan Baker

8th March – 5th May 2018

Recommended age 15+
Contains partial nudity, strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Please note: there is no interval

Molina – Samuel Barnett
Valentin – Declan Bennett
Warden – Grace Cookey-Gam

Direction – Laurie Sansom
Designer – Jon Bausor
Lighting Designer – Paul Anderson
Sound Designer – Philip Pinsky
Projection Designer – Andrzej Goulding


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