Kiss Of The Spider Woman

Written by Manuel Puig, Translated by Allan Baker
Directed by Charlotte Westenra, Presented by Donmar Warehouse
Liverpool Playhouse (29th May – 2nd June 2007)

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

At first it was a novel, then a Hollywood film and bizarrely, given its subject matter, a Broadway musical. Kiss Of The Spider Woman - perhaps in its natural habitat - was finally adapted for the stage, with the audience at the Playhouse being awed by a spellbinding production.

It comprises only two actors (save for a faceless jail warden, who occasionally walks past their cell), with Molina (Will Keen) highly impressive as the gay man incarcerated in the infamous Villa Devoto prison in Argentina by the 1970s military junta for his sexual predilections.

Opposites often attract, and this is the case with his cellmate, the naive but earnest Marxist Valentin (Rupert Evans), caged for his radical political views. Molina seems to care for him a lot, tending him when he is bedridden by food poisoning.

Valentin finds a certain degree of comfort in his stricken state, with Molina recounting the plot, although in a piecemeal fashion, of B-movie suspense thriller Panther Woman, based on the 1940s movie Cat People.

But all is not what it appears, with the revelation that Molina is spying on Valentin on behalf of the prison authorities, in order to uncover secrets about the Marxist group he is a part of.

Throughout the play - staged with a backdrop of bars and steel doors - Valentin never suspects the treachery being enacted against him by his seemingly benevolent companion, who gives him part of his food parcels, supposedly delivered to the prison by his ailing mother.

One question I have about with the story, is what is it actually telling me, other than someone is prepared to grass on someone else in order to benefit from it, or that humans are selfish, or that the way you appear to people can be tragically misleading?

Nevertheless, despite this reservation, the production is worth seeing, if only for the mesmeric performance of Keen.

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