Kiss Marry Kill

Daphna Attias, James Baldwin and Terry O’Donovan with lyrics and music by Lady Lykez
Dante or Die, The Lowry, South Street Arts and Ideas Test
The Lowry at Hallé St Peters, Ancoats

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Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte
Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte
Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte
Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte
Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte
Kiss Marry Kill Credit: Greta Zabulyte

Dante or Die specialises in site-specific performances; in tonight’s case, the venue is one in which weddings would have been performed in the past-Grade II listed, former church, Hallé St Peters in Ancoats. The location is not the only unusual aspect to this ambitious production, inspired by a true story.

It goes to show how quickly we have adjusted to the intrusive security measures in theatres. I initially thought the metal structures through which the audience enters the venue were security scanners and not, as it turns out, part of Sophie Neil’s brutally effective stage set, all cold metal and harsh neon tubes.

Jay (Dauda Ladejobi) is homophobic but, although he has a pregnant fiancée, is gay by inclination. Terrified his true sexuality may be discovered, Jay commits a hate-crime, brutally murdering a man who makes a pass at him and to whom he responds. However, in gaol, Jay becomes attracted to fellow prisoner / murderer Paul (Graham Mackay-Bruce), and eventually they make history becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in prison.

Kiss Marry Kill is strong on atmosphere but weak on credible characterisation. Graham Mackay-Bruce is on full charisma overload as Paul, but the script offers little he can use to develop the character. The nature of Paul’s crime is kept secret until towards the end of the play, so the character is enigmatic. Paul uses sex as a means of maintaining his status in the prison—transactional rather than passionate. His sudden rush to marry seems calculating instead of romantic, a cynical means of manipulating the system.

Dauda Ladejobi plays Jay as someone in a permanent state of confusion about, well, everything really. During a dream sequence, he admits to being ashamed but does not clarify if he is embarrassed by his sexuality, crime, shabby treatment of his fiancée or poor standard of literacy. Kiss Marry Kill may use the redemptive power of love as a theme, but one must question whether two characters who show so little sign of remorse deserve redemption.

The play gives a positive impression of the penal system. There are no sadistic guards in the prison and the jovial governor has a very progressive outlook.

Authors Daphna Attias, James Baldwin and Terry O’Donovan try to cover as much as possible in a limited running time, occasionally using one aspect to make two points. Jay shows a degree of remorse by taking part in the Restorative Justice programme and corresponding with the husband of his victim. This also allows the authors to articulate a negative response—that such actions are a cynical attempt to look good at parole hearings.

Ambitiously, the story of Kiss Marry Kill is told not only through dialogue but also movement and music. Lady Lykez takes several roles in the play as well as being a one-woman Greek chorus, commenting upon the events. The confusion and conflict at the heart of the situation is captured in the way Lady Lykez’s lyrics contrast with Ayse Tashkiran’s movement direction. Lady Lykez raps out a string of offensive homophobic words, while the stylised movement of the cast, close to dance if we’re honest, is highly erotic.

Again, the show makes two points at the same time: responses to the announcement of the planned same-sex marriage are reflected in Lady Lykez’s lyrics, articulating a generalised objection to the principle of gay marriage, while the movement of the cast—a stylised prison riot—is a reaction to the perceived preferential treatment enjoyed by two prisoners.

The atmospheric approach of Kiss Marry Kill captures the chaos and confusion arising from a controversial situation, but the limited running time does not permit the characterisation to be developed sufficiently to establish people with whom the audience might have greater sympathy.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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