Menier Chocolate Factory, London – until 5 May 2018
Despite playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, this version of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman is not Kander and Ebb’s 1993 musical, just so you’re clear. What it is, is a beautifully calibrated and ferociously emotive study of love and loneliness and what, if anything, masculinity means.
This new adaptation by José Rivera and Allan Baker casts right back to the original novel, jettisoning memories of the 1985 film too, to trace the burgeoning relationship between two cellmates. Political prisoner Valentin and sexual deviant Molina have little in common but through their shared trials, something beautiful thrives.
A pained beauty comes from Molina’s recounting of his favourite films as a distraction technique. Enhanced by stunning projection work from Andrzej Goulding, these play out on the surprisingly vast expanse of space created by Jon Bausor’s sparsely institutional design to create a tangible depth of lyrical escapism
And Laurie Sansom’s astutely cast production shimmers and shivers in the quality of its performances. Samuel Barnett’s defiantly queer Molina is beautifully judged in his openness and in his complexities and the way in which Declan Bennett details the crumbling certainties of his strapping Valentin is sensitively done indeed.
Rivera and Baker’s adaptation does focus more on the personal than the political, so this does feel very much like the story of these two men rather than a searching insight into the LGBTQ experience in Latin America. But with that in mind, it is a painstakingly evocative study of the power – and limits – of love.