“Or You Could Kiss Me” at The National Theatre

A London theatre audience can be a tough crowd – we think we’ve seen it all before. Puppets acting with humans in plays? Of course. Gay puppets? Plenty of times. But The Handspring Puppet Company (of Warhorse fame) can still do something to stun even the jaded. The puppets in their new show Or You Could Kiss Me are so alive, even the most cynical will be profoundly moved.

Devised with writer and director Neil Bartlett, Or You Could Kiss Me is the story of lovers at the end of their lives. Ravaged by illness and old age, they struggle with the knowledge that they will soon be parted.

Set in the future, the production uses the almost uncanny device of placing puppeteers on stage to control their fictional counterparts. Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, along with their ensemble, work Mr A and Mr B. What this must do for their psyches is difficult to say. Their bravery is clear to all.

But it is the puppets that are the stars. Bartlett’s achievement is to have written a play for them. The ensemble cast perform with the flawless choreography essential for their art to be convincing. Their concern for the characters they operate radiates to the audience; every gesture is articulated with authenticity.

Or You Could Kiss Me is invested with such intensity that at times it feels almost intrusive. Alongside the puppeteers, Adjoa Andoh performs a variety of roles, joining the audience in watching this painful momento mori. She is the prologue, who recites Ovid, and later appears as a doctor, lecturing us about the breakdown of memory in the sick and old. In both instances she represents a common humanity that cannot fail to speak to anyone who has loved and, by extension, feared loss. Or You Could Kiss Me is unforgettable theatre.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Until 17 November 2010

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 6 October 2010 for The London Magazine

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