When Londonist told friends that we were going to see Kiss of the Spider Woman, they immediately got very excited. “Awesome!” they said, “with that hot Sonia Braga chick?” They were thinking, of course, of Hector Babenco’s 1985 film, which was itself based on the 1976 novel by Manuel Puig.
As it were, we will now have to disappoint our friends and tell them that Sonia Braga is not a part of this production. Instead, Charlotte Westenra has directed an intimate two-hander, and rather than presenting a visual feast, she has chosen to use the exquisite words of Allan Baker's translation to express emotions and images. The play is set in an Argentinean prison in the 1970s. Two men, Molina and Valentin, share a cell. As evening entertainment, Molina recalls the 1942 film Cat People.
This ritual helps bring the two men together, in spite of their differences. As time goes by, they experience a mutual attraction, which is doomed from the beginning by Molina’s secret, which you probably already know, and if you don’t, we are not going to tell you.
Will Keen plays Molina, a ‘woman in a man’s body’, who uses memories and dreams to survive in prison. Keen inhabits his character completely; his fluttery hand-gestures and Truman Capote-like voice are the stars of the show and he draws in the audience in a way that his co-star never quite manages. Rupert Evans plays the revolutionary Valentin as a student, a Hamlet, one might say; all jittery principle and intellectual reasoning. It takes him a while to get started, but as the play progresses his performance gets stronger.
The first act is all talk and no action but the writing is strong enough for the focused audience member to stay interested. Even though the play is surrounded by political and cultural views, it is ultimately about something as basic as betrayal and love. Intense performances, from Keen in particular, make the ending utterly, utterly moving – even without Sonia Braga.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is at the Donmar Warehouse until 26th May. Get tickets.
By Charlotte Pedersen