Saturday, 23 February 2013

Stop Kiss - review

Written by: Daisy Thurston-Gent (@daisytgpoetry)

Leicester Square Theatre, London

Marking a fantastic directorial debut from Libertine Productions’ Noah James, Stop Kiss is the touching story of two friends-turned-lovers whose time is unexpectedly cut short after a violent attack sparked by their first kiss.

As the play opens, the soundscape swells; we vaguely catch notes of ambulance sirens tangled within the sounds of a city. Noah James establishes the play’s bleak forecast with perfect subtlety before stealing our attention away to the playful first scene where we are greeted by the blasting music of Callie’s messy New York apartment. Set in the bustle of New York, the piece works perfectly tucked away in the heart of London at the Leicester Square Theatre. It is the ideal snapshot into the personal lives of two ordinary women caught up in a life-changing event fuelled by homophobic violence. The characters are highly memorable and their compelling story is riddled with unexpected humour and tenderness.

Diana Son’s script slips back and forth between the growing stages of friendship between Callie and Sara, and the distressing aftermath of an attack on the women after they exchange their first kiss in a public park in New York City’s West Village. Olivia Hunter carries the play, giving a charming performance as traffic-reporting nutty New Yorker, Callie; who, beneath deliciously awkward wit, has moments of genuine poignancy. She bounds across the stage with tremendous confidence, as the audience titter at her wide-eyed panic whenever the doorbell rings. She handles this highly energetic character effortlessly, pinning down believable sporadic mannerisms that ensure the humour flows naturally.

Rae Brogan, who plays Sara, appears (initially) to be the more natural of the two - her lines are less jarring and close attention has been given to her comic timing. The exchanges between the two women are extremely humourous and sincere, which startles us even more during the stirring scenes that are set after the incident that renders Sara wheelchair bound. Brogan becomes distressingly lifeless as she is pushed between scenes, convincing as the comatosed Sara, making Hunter’s monologues all the more heart-rending as Callie gently tends to her lover.

A further notable performance comes from Jamael Westman who plays Callie’s on/off ‘friends with benefits’ ex-boyfriend, George. Westman carries off this lovable Laddish slob with great ease, allowing for affectionate exchanges with Hunter and sharp quick-fire banter opposite Brogan. For the most part the play is amusing and heart-felt, although moments of weakness arise during scenes featuring the supporting roles. Some of the dry humour between Georgia Buchanan (who plays Detective Cole) and Hunter feels comparatively flat, failing to match the overall style of the play. The intended audience response is sometimes unclear during these exchanges, whereas the humour comes naturally in the surrounding scenes. This results in moments of performance that could, unfortunately, be misinterpreted as gauche or wooden. Similarly, interactions amongst further supporting roles such as Peter (Sara’s ex boyfriend, played by Seb Blunt) and Mrs Winsley (a witness to the crime, played by Victoria Kempton) also lacked the emotional detail and connection that is so strong between Hunter and Brogan, thus these crucial scenes fall a little short. Nevertheless, the cast is strong and the slight exploration faults regarding character attention are only noticeable occasionally.

The growing relationship between the two female leads is funny and inescapably moving. We are invested in the characters from the word go and our concerns about their outcome develop with every scene. Stop Kiss is a thoroughly engaging play, telling the story of how the lives of two ordinary friends living in New York can be shaken to breaking point in the shadow of mindless violence.

This production runs until 9 March 2013. 
@LSQTheatre @StopKissPlay

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