Or You Could Kiss Me Review
Puppetry, up until a couple of years ago, was considered to be a fairly archaic theatrical convention. So when Nick Stafford acquired the services of the Handspring Puppet Company for his stage production of War Horse, back in 2007, the public and critics alike were slightly hesitant as to how the novel was to be adapted. Three years on, and War Horse is still the most successful play on the West End and the Handspring Puppet Company are back in vogue.
The success of Neil Bartlett’s new play ‘Or You Could Kiss Me’ hinges on the stage dynamics of their puppetry, as a small cast endeavour to condense the lives of two aging lovers into an intense 1 hr 40 minute production. Mr A and Mr B (based on real life characters) must reconcile their love after a life of suppressed homosexuality: Mr B is terminally ill and hesitant to sign a mutual will, despite 70 years of co-habitation with Mr A.
The pace is at times gruelling and as such, props, other than the puppetry, are minimal, as you may expect of plays performed in the round. However, when the narrative begins to lose its way, the expert puppetry provides some respite.
The two central protagonists appear in three overlapping time frames and are played by three distinct human couples and two different sets of puppets. It is this non-linear narrative which prompts confusion in the play, as the audience must witness the “emotional memories” of youth in flashback. The puppetry is used to draw a parallel between the fluidity and exuberance of youth and the slow and staggered movements of the decrepit lovers. Every minute shudder depends upon the technical expertise of the puppeteers and from the outset you can see why Bartlett felt this convention would work so well for his elderly characters. However, there are times when it does seem slightly gratuitous: one scene involves the sexual consummation the two youthful puppets, who hang Pinocchio-like, encircled by grunting puppeteers. It becomes slightly laughable and perverse and it is difficult to see why Bartlett chose to use puppets in this scene when human characters are used elsewhere in the play.
The main drawback of the play is the strain of the narrative on the audience and the small cast. Even a seasoned veteran like Adjoa Andoh will not before have found herself playing a doctor, scientist, housemaid, lawyer and narrator all at once . The central theme of the play is the failure of expression but many may not accredit the sense of confusion the play evokes as an enhancement of this theme. However, one thing is for certain, Bartlett has certainly found a way to express his script through the use of some masterful puppetry. Whilst ‘Or You Could Kiss Me’ may not leave a legacy as War Horse did, it is a testament to the continued success of puppetry as a theatrical convention.
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