Trafalgar Studios, London – until 8 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Jake Laverde
Originally produced at Hampstead theatre, Richard Bean’s Kiss Me is making its west end debut. Kiss Me is a two hander set entirely in one London bedroom 10 years after the first World War.
In the opening moments, we see Claire Lams as “Stephanie”, a stiff cardigan in the shape of a woman, nervously preparing herself and her room. At one point folding over a duvet corner as if to welcome someone in before changing her mind. A smartly dressed Ben Lloyd-Hughes enters the scene and we work out exactly why, all stiff upper lip and sense of duty as he does his part to help with the re-population of the country. A medically prescribed gigolo in other words.
Richard Bean wrings out every last drop of bathos and pathos over the next hour and a bit. Claire Lam is all nerves and twitchiness in the opening scenes while Ben Lloyd-Hughes acts like he’s preparing to perform a chore. Carrying out his seduction like a well trained mechanic opening the bonnet of a car.
As both “Stephanie” and “Dennis” carry on their meetings, they open themselves up to each other. “Stephanie” literally sheds her uptight appearance, an uptight skin cast off. “Dennis” too opens up and soon his braces are hanging by his sides.
Though only running at around 70 mins, it’s possible to find yourself lost in Richard Bean’s dialogue. Flowing elegantly, touching on the absurdity of the social niceties of the time. However when Bean reaches for philosophical musing it falls a little flat and at times you can hear his voice creeping into “Stephanie’s” observations. Kiss Me touches on many themes but never seems to explore them. Not least the rather unusual relationship that develops between the leads which would have raised many eyebrows at the time.
But it’s the chemistry and tension between Lams and Lloyd-Hughes that carries this bittersweet 70 minutes. Both leads infuse their performances with their characters guilt. “Stephanie’s” nerves and “Dennis’s” stiffest of upper lips both mask and betray their pasts. Between them, they transform a small studio into the only space that matters. With each other they find a small freedom from everything else going on in the world but like all good things, it can’t last.
Kiss Me may not bring any big surprises but as a gently humorous and bittersweet tale, it delivers on all counts. A delicate and sweet thing, sort of like love really.