Saturday 9 February 2013

Kiss Of The Spider Woman

Arts Educational School, London


Book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel of the same name by Manuel Puig

Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Genesis Lynae and company members

Kander and Ebb’s Kiss Of The Spider Woman is a show rarely seen in London. A troubling piece, exploring life within a repressive prison environment of a nondescript South American country and focussing upon the two inmates of one cell. Molina, a homosexual, is imprisoned on a trumped up charge of a sexual offence, whilst Valentin, a committed Marxist, is incarcerated and tortured for his beliefs. The show’s action is set almost entirely in the confines of the prison and in the vividly imagined fantasies of movie-obsessed Molina’s mind and from there stems the power of Puig’s novel, cleverly captured in Terrence McNally’s book.

The  Arts Educational School BA Musical Theatre 3rd Year students are a talented troupe and one could have been forgiven for mistaking this company for professionally experienced alumni rather than undergraduates, such was the talent on display. This review, perhaps invidiously, will comment on but a handful of characters. However, whilst these players may have had key roles, the overall performance of the entire company was astounding. There was not a weak link amongst them and all the actors must shoulder equally the praise that this production has garnered.

The intriguingly named Genesis Lynea headed the cast,  both as Aurora, a film starlet type character of Molina’s fantasies and also as the Spider Woman. Veiled and impeccably made up with jet black lipstick and implausibly long eyelashes Lynea bore a stage presence rarely if at all seen in one so early on in their career. The actress’ poise, presence, movement and above all, her voice was astounding. Shaven headed, costumed throughout in splendid gowns that at times could plunge to display her provocative decolletage, a suggestion of the siren-like fatality of her kiss, Lynea is without question an actress to look out for.

Greg Miller Burns as Molina displayed a combination of strength and fragility. Two of his solo numbers in particular She’s A Woman and Mama, It’s Me showed vocal precision that matched his movement whilst his acting skill gave a credible portrayal of his growing love for his cellmate. Valentin realised by Danny-Boy Hatchard was another display of gritty acting, convincingly evoking a  man at times starved, at times beaten and ultimately in love. Vocally, Hatchard has perhaps a little more to offer than was heard in this show, however his leading of the ensemble in The Day After That was a powerful and moving anthem. Olive Robinson and Shane McDaid were effective supporting players, as Molina’s Mother and Prison Warder respectively, providing sufficient depth in each of their portrayals to add colour to a very starkly portrayed world.

Nikolai Foster’s direction and interpretation of the show has been a blessing to these fortunate students. With minimal props and no scenery save for minimal use of projection and a combination of smoke and well plotted lighting, the power of this production came solely from human endeavour and excellence. The fantasy scenes, in which a dozen actors could, from nowhere, gallop through the shared cell were inspired creations whilst the oft repeated refrain of the prisoners, Over The Wall, was in each of its four reprises, menacingly played out.

Kander’s music is of course denuded without choreography and Drew McOnie’s vision that drew upon the tango amongst other Latin styles, together with some nods in the direction of Bob Fosse, was nothing if not provocative. The big numbers of the Morphine Tango, Let’s Make Love and Only In The Movies, exploited both the talent and the size of the cast and were as drilled and rehearsed as they were imaginative whilst Tom Deering’s musical direction produced a large and compelling South American sound from a band of barely three. The creative trinity of Foster, McOnie and Deering is a symbiotic powerhouse that clearly generates outstanding musical theatre.

This production deserves more than its brief academic-length run of ten days. If the gods of theatre can bestow this show for a month or so, at somewhere like the Riverside perhaps, London will be the richer for it.

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