Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Manuel Puig, translated by Allan Baker
Donmar Warehouse

Iain Glen's late withdrawal from this production might just give his replacement Will Keen a best actor award. His performance as Molina is detailed and cleverly nuanced and can only get better. This is remarkable given that he apparently had ten days to rehearse the part of a homosexual who is in all senses other than the purely physical a woman.

Keen has both the creaky, high pitched voice and prissy body language that together say so much about a man imprisoned for gross indecency.

His cellmate in this two-hander adapted from Argentinian writer Manuel Puig's novel is Rupert Evans' Valentin. This bearded, scraggy Marxist political prisoner is an unlikely partner, since ostensibly the two have nothing in common.

They begin to develop a mutual dependency, substantially built on their nightly escapism into Molina's loving rehashing of a 'B' movie about a voracious panther woman.

For weeks, through terrible adversity that reaches its worst when stomachs rebel, he spins out the tale as a palliative. He also has the benefit of access to a generous mother who supplies luxury foods that make cell life bearable.

The whole tenor changes in a scene offstage that heralds the interval. This puts the first hour, of around two and a quarter, into perspective and changes our views of both the sensitive homosexual and the rash idealist.

The play, set in 1976, then develops into a psychological game of cat and mouse, Molina having been outed as an informer to us but not to Valentin. There is still uncertainty as, until the dénouement, we are never whether he is actually playing his own double-crossing game at the expense of the authorities.

This helps to make an intriguing study of type even more fascinating, leading up to an ending when we are finally introduced to the spider woman in all her unprincipled glory.

While Keen is the star, Evans also has his moments, both when in the grip of gut-rot and enthusing about love, whether for the Party or a girl.

Young director Charlotte Westenra acquits herself well under what must have been difficult circumstances, maintaining a relaxed tempo that exacerbates the moments of drama in a worthwhile revival that reminds us of some history that may be very recent but contains attitudes that could come from another age - thank goodness.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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