Review – Or You Could Kiss Me – Handspring at the National Theatre

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I admit: I booked Or You Could Kiss Me in ignorance and in girlish fannishness. Fannishness, I say, because I bought it strictly because it came with the Handspring Puppet Company Tag, they of War Horse fame; ignorance because I’ve never actually seen War Horse (too pricey) and, by the time I went, I’d almost completely forgotten what the show was about. It was new, it had puppets, I’d found tickets for £10 (slightly restricted view); done.

So what is this new play with puppets about? It’s about a couple, two gay men at the end of their lives, who are fairly close to death and not handling it very well. That is, one of the men (Mr. B, no relation to the choreographer) is very close to death; yet really, neither he nor his partner (Mr. A, “the little one”) seem to be able to organize either the details of their lives or their relationship with each other in a way that is going to lead to maximizing happiness for both of them. Mr. B really seems to need to sort his memories; both of his life (as his ability to do so degenerates) and of the particulars of his time with Mr A.

As we watch the elderly puppets shuffling and napping, we’re treated to the glittering details of the start of “them,” as glorious puppet-youths, swimming, playing squash, dancing, and dealing with insecurity – of being gay in a less-friendly time, and of wanting to be loved. Somewhere in there is something Mr B really needs to remember correctly; and, it seems, there is something he needs to say to Mr A.

This lovely little play, with its beautifully crafted and manipulated puppets, seems to struggle far more with the tedium of daily life than even Mr B. There are meals, there are phone calls, there is a dog that barks too loudly and pees on the floor, there is just too much that needs to be pared away for this 110 minute, interval-less show to get down to the core I think must be in there underneath it all. Playwright Neil Bartlett and Handspring convinced me that something important needed to be done and said; but I left this play feeling unsatisfied. No matter how well carved and researched Misters A and B were, the play must get back to their story. With luck, the end of previews will trim a bit more away; and a remount, short a good half hour (that I think no one will dare remove lest National audiences complain about not getting their money’s worth), and we may have a very good play at hand, rather than one that is fine but simply too long.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, September 28, 2010. This play officially opens October 5th. It runs through October 30th as near as I can tell but it may extend.)

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One Response to “Review – Or You Could Kiss Me – Handspring at the National Theatre”

  1. Review – Hansel and Gretel – Kneehigh Theatre at Queen Elizabeth Hall « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Birdie and The Witch (as well as a pair of puppet bunnies who had more charm in them than all of Or You Could Kiss Me). Act one was a drawn out affair establishing the kids’ personalities (Hansel, a dreamer and […]

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