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A CurtainUp London Review
Kiss of the Spiderwoman

"You, you're the spider woman that traps men in her web." — Valentin
Kiss of the Spiderwoman
Declan Bennett as Valentin and Samuel Barnett as Molina (Photo: Nobby Clark)
Argentina 1975. The prison cell is filthy, the food disgusting, the facilities poor. Valentin has burns on his body from torture and a black eye. Two men share a cell: Luis Molina (Samuel Barnett) and Valentin Arregui (Declan Bennett) but they have very little, other than their imprisonment, in common.

Molina is a homosexual and has been arrested accused of gross indecency, for having sex with an underage boy. Valentin is a political activist dedicated to the overthrow of Isabel Peron's regime.

Molina is relating the story of a film he has seen as Valentin tries to get to sleep. As he does so, shadowy images of the characters are projected and we hear the soundscape, a cat's miaow, horses' hooves. Samuel Barnett as the narrator Molina is very animated and more than a little camp. Part of his pleasure is that he isn't just describing the movie but he is adding to the detail as he embroiders the story with fantasy ideas of his own. This later becomes an issue as Valentin argues with Molina about authenticity.

Valentin talks only in political terms, about the struggle but opens up about his fears for his girlfriend. Valentin's vulnerability is revealed when he gets very ill from eating the food provided by the warders, a meat stew laced with castor oil which gives him violent diarrhoea. As Molina's caring side comes to the fore, he helps Valentin clean up and he wraps him in a sheet to keep warm. Molina gets proper food from the warder pretending that his mother has visited when he goes to meet the warder.

Scenes between Molina and a warder (Grace Cookey Gam) reveal the authorities' interest in getting information about Valentin's political colleagues and their plans and the warder wanting Molina to spy on Valentin in return for Molina getting his freedom. As the play progresses both men open up to each other. We hear about Molina's world in the gay community and Valentin shows vulnerability which culminates in a sexual scene between the two men.

The two principals act well in what is now a historical but not groundbreaking play, but one studied in schools. Samuel Barnett's character calms as the play progresses and Declan Bennett's Valentin becomes less of a doctrinaire cypher for the political cause. Samuel Barnett appears in the closing scene in a dress to die for with clear lines of a spider's web and silvery gossamer in between.

Too many of the audience had not read the basic information. Because the Chocolate Factory is famous for musicals they were expecting to see the musical version of Spiderwoman.

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Kiss of the Spiderwoman
Written by Manuel Puig
Adapted by Jose Riviera and Allan Baker
Directed by Laurie Sansom
Starring: Samuel Barnett, Declan Bennett
With: Grace Cookey-Gam
Design: Jon Bausor
Movement Director: Georgina Lamb
Projection Design: Andrzej Goulding
Composer and Sound Design: Philip Pinsky
Lighting Design: Paul Anderson
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7378 1713
Booking to 5th May 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd March 2018 performance at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street London SE1 1RU (Tube Rail: London Bridge)
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