Prisoner Cell Block Bore: Kiss Of The Spider Woman At Menier Chocolate Factory

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory ★★☆☆☆

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Prisoner Cell Block Bore: Kiss Of The Spider Woman At Menier Chocolate Factory Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory 2
Photo: Nobby Clark

Some carefully crafted advertising meant a lot of people rushed to book this one, thinking it might be a musical — although after the walking disaster that was Barnum, maybe best not. Instead, it's a newly translated version of the Manuel Puig novel and stage play which spawned the 1993 Broadway hit.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it’s that if Kander and Ebb adapt something into a Broadway musical or a film and win a slew of Tonys and Oscars for it, the original from which they drew their inspiration may leave audiences feeling flat. So don’t attempt I Am a Camera (Cabaret) or the 1926 Play Ball (Chicago) without music any time soon either.

Photo: Nobby Clark

Second, if you have a superb set by Jon Bausor which really makes your bunkerish basement look like a Latin American prison — don’t cast the leads with people who sound like they’re weekending in Sheffield, and don’t cast a tall woman who has to dodge the ceiling lights playing a wholly unconvincing and unthreatening prison governor.

The problem is not that the two actors — Samuel Barnett as Molina, the gay window dresser who may be wrongfully imprisoned, and Declan Bennett as Valentin, the revolutionary who should probably be there — don’t throw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles, but that there’s not sufficient at which to throw themselves. In the stage version, Molina isn’t operatic enough as the gay diva, and Valentin isn’t dangerous enough as the terrorist.  The betrayal feels too patently obvious not to arouse Valentin's suspicion. Even when Barnett’s descriptions of the movies — wonderfully shadow-played on the cell walls — lurch into erotic stimulation of his cellmate and full-on sex, it’s hard to stay engaged.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street, SE1. Until 5 May 2018. Tickets £40-42.50 plus fees.

Last Updated 23 March 2018